Crafting an Effective Data Strategy: Key Considerations for Local Authorities

By Asiel Esgair –  Cybit Data & Analytics Consultant  – Public Sector & Local Authority 

In our life time, we’ve witnessed Data become one of the most valuable and pivotal assets around, one that no organisation in the world especially local authorities in the UK can afford to overlook.   While these authorities vary significantly in size and budget, they are uniformly bound by a stringent regulatory framework and share the common responsibility of effectively delivering public services.

The gravity of this task is further elevated by the essential nature of the services they provide to citizens. Therefore, a well-conceived data strategy can make the difference between reaching peak efficacy in fulfilling their duties and falling short.

Local authorities frequently operate a myriad of systems and databases, intended to aid in the delivery of public services.   However, throughout my career I’ve noted that the most common challenges organisations face has been the lack of uniformity and integrations across systems and poor quality of data.

The former often leading to data silos that collect dust being underutilised, as well as a scaling challenge when adopting new data sources, or the data volumes from existing sources start to balloon.   The latter compounds the issue by eroding trust in data-driven decision-making processes.   These basic principles tend to have a snowball effect down the line as new technologies come into the scene and unexpected events unfold.

Given the high stakes involved, marked by a complex web of regulations and the impact on people’s lives, it becomes critical to address these issues head-on and early-on.

The Data Strategy

When formulating or amending a data strategy, its important to note that this is not an exercise that a Chief Data Officer, or any other role with that responsibility, can conduct in vacuum.   The strategy will change how you do business and shape a new culture underlined by the principles you set out in your approach.   Therefore, it is imperative to engage with the entire organisation to gain a better grasp of how data is used and how it will align with the new approach.

Katharine Purser, Chief Data Strategy and Enablement at DWP highlights three things to remember to guide your approach.

“First of all, data needs must follow business need… prioritise activity based on areas of greatest need.

Secondly, we need to recognise that data is all of our business… colleagues who work with data and those who build systems to process that data all have their part to play….

Finally…remember that data describes real people, places and things…We need to value data the same way we value those things.”

As you map out your path towards becoming data driven and being a digital organisation rather just “doing digital” to enhance your service delivery.   Keep in mind the following points!

  1. Alignment with Organisational Goals & Regulatory Compliance:  The data strategy should be intrinsically aligned with the organisation’s overarching quantifiable objectives while simultaneously adhering to legal frameworks such as GDPR. This dual focus ensures both operational effectiveness and compliance, making the strategy sustainable and quantifiable in the goals it aims to achieve.
  2. Federated Access & Data Governance: Implementing robust governance protocols is fundamental for maintaining data quality, security, and privacy, which in turn provides the foundation for federated access.   With stringent governance measures in place, federated access enables different departments or units within the organisation to access the data they need in a controlled manner.   This eliminates data bottlenecks and streamlines decision-making processes, all while ensuring compliance with relevant laws and maintaining data integrity.   The coexistence of these two elements—strong governance and federated access—creates an ecosystem where data can be both secure and readily accessible, optimising efficiency across the organisation.
  3. Data Quality & Integration: Upholding rigorous standards of data quality is essential for building trust in data-driven processes and making well-informed decisions.   This involves aspects like data accuracy, completeness, and consistency.  In parallel, successful integration of various databases and systems is indispensable, especially in complex organisational settings where multiple data sources often coexist.  Integration enables seamless data flow between different systems, reducing the likelihood of silos and redundancies.  Furthermore, standardising the method and the means to integrating your systems across the estate will support your ability to scale and adopt newer technologies.   When data quality and system integration are jointly optimised, they create a more resilient data ecosystem, allowing for more unified, holistic decision-making processes, and more importantly greater clarity on the division of labour within the data management process further supporting data governance and facilitating greater access to the organisation.   This in turn contributes to operational efficiencies and better service delivery.
  4. Scalability, Automation & Standardisation: To create an effective data strategy, focus on scalable infrastructure that can expand alongside the organisation. Automation plays a pivotal role in reducing manual effort and streamlining processes.   Additionally, adopting standardised data formats and structures complements both scalability and automation by ensuring seamless data exchange and integration across diverse systems.   This trio of elements works together to handle growing data volumes and complexities efficiently.
  5. Cost-Efficiency & Flexibility: Balancing cost-effectiveness with long-term return on investment is a key consideration for any robust data strategy. Alongside fiscal prudence, the strategy should be flexible enough to adapt to emerging technologies, regulatory shifts, and methodological advancements.   This dual emphasis on cost-efficiency and adaptability ensures that the strategy is both economically sustainable and agile, capable of evolving as the organisation’s needs and the technological landscape change.
  6. Change Management, User Training & Cultural Change:   The success of a data strategy significantly relies on comprehensive change management, user training, and a conducive cultural shift within the organisation. Effective training equips the staff with the skills and knowledge needed for smooth transitions, particularly when introducing new technologies or methodologies. Alongside this tactical approach, fostering a culture that values data-driven decision-making and continuous improvement is essential. This cultural shift complements change management efforts and amplifies the impact of user training.   By weaving these elements together the organisation enhances its agility and readiness to adapt to both internal and external shifts.

In summary, it is clear that the chronic challenges of data management—ranging from the lack of system uniformity to poor data quality—can undermine digital transformation efforts if not meticulously addressed.   Therefore, the importance of a well-structured data strategy for local authorities in the UK cannot be overstated.  The ever-evolving digital landscape, coupled with stringent regulatory frameworks and the critical nature of public services, puts local authorities under substantial pressure to deliver effectively and efficiently.

In my parting note I would say, the data strategy serves as more than a mere tactical plan; it is a holistic approach that brings about a cultural shift within the organisation, changing how business is conducted at its core.   An effective data strategy will equip organisations like local authorities with the tools to deliver on their current commitments effectively and efficiently, as well as the agility to adapt to unforeseen challenges and opportunities in our data-driven world.

While the list presented here is by no means exhaustive, it aims to address the core considerations vital for shaping a robust data strategy.

Should you require further guidance or expertise—whether in crafting your strategy, identifying suitable technologies, implementation and service management—my team and I are happy to help!

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