How sharing is changing the way governments are using data

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As a result of a growing reliance on IT systems to support day-to-day activities, government departments and agencies are awash with digital data.

From policy documents and financial records to activity schedules and citizen communication, this data is growing in volume and importance. It not only supports current activities but also provides a platform for strategic planning.

Much of this data is stored centrally and then shared with those people who require access. This can be achieved using a variety of mechanisms from email and FTP to cloud storage and APIs.

While these methods work, they come with restrictions. Sharing data in these ways requires copies to be made which then end up in multiple locations. Security can be compromised, and users are never sure whether they are actually viewing the most up-to-date version.

The situation becomes even more complex when different departments and agencies need to share data sets with others. Files in different formats arrive via different mechanisms and then must be combined and standardised for use.

A new approach to data sharing

To overcome these challenges, increasing numbers of public-sector organisations are exploring the potential of a new approach to data sharing. The approach overcomes the cumbersome existing processes and allows more flexible and valuable sharing to be achieved.

The approach also makes data available in real time. In this way, those using it can be confident they have the very latest versions of files or database entries. This improves the accuracy of work based on the data and minimises risks.

This new approach involves the decoupling of storage resources from compute resources. This differs from traditional databases and data lakes but delivers sizable advantages. Users are able to directly access shared data and then use their own compute power to examine and manipulate it.

As a result, large numbers of users can access the same data set at the same time without causing any performance issues. Because there is no competition for compute resources, everyone can work at full pace all the time.

Security is maintained as the data owners can be very granular about exactly what resources can be accessed and by whom. If a user has not been granted permission, they simply can’t get to the data in the first place.

The democratisation of data

Sharing data between departments and agencies in this way essentially democratises access to it across the board. As a result, collaboration can increase and insights gained that previously would have been impossible to obtain.

For example, agencies can compare their performance with others in critical areas. The impact of a policy change in one area can be assessed to determine whether it should also be introduced in others.

External parties can also benefit. Commercial organisations can be granted access to relevant data to support their forward planning. By understanding the steps being taken by government, they can better guide investment and activities to maximise commercial returns.

It also brings the potential for data to be monetised. If external parties can see a commercial advantage in its use, they are likely to be happy to pay for access. This can open up a new and potentially lucrative opportunity for the public sector.

The rise of the data exchange

Taking this approach another step forward, increasing numbers of organisations are taking advantage of emerging data marketplaces and exchanges. Through these mechanisms, data holders can make known what data sets they have available and how much access might cost.

They operate in the same way as eBay or Amazon. Those looking for data query a catalogue and select the data sets that are most relevant to their requirements. This takes data democratisation a step further and means even more value can be achieved.

The ongoing rise in data sharing will have lasting impact on governments at all levels. By taking time now to understand the implications, those in the public sector will be much better placed to reap the benefits.

Image credit: ©iStockphoto.com/alengo

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