INSIGHTS

The National Data Strategy: Opportunities and Challenges

  • June 25, 2021
 

The UK is already a global leader in data-derived products and services, securing 33% of European technology investment in 2019. Recently, the government announced their National Data Strategy, which aims to advance the UK’s position by facilitating further digital transformation and unlocking value from data-driven insights. Let’s take a look at the opportunities and challenges likely to arise from the strategy.


The National Data Strategy mission statements


1. Unlocking the value of data across the economy: making data usable and accessible across organisations, while protecting privacy concerns.

2. Securing a pro-growth and trusted data regime: meaning that a rigorous system is established that does not place too great a responsibility on small to medium sized businesses (SMEs)

3. Transforming government’s use of data to drive efficiency and improve public services: creation of best practices and standards to facilitate use of government data.

4. Ensuring the security and resilience of the infrastructure on which data relies: protect businesses, public services and other organisations from disruption.

5. Championing the international flow of data: ensure that best practices are maintained at home and across international borders.


Opportunities


According to an analysis by innovation consultancy, Ctrl-Shift, personal data mobility (a world where data flows safely and efficiently) could increase the UK’s GDP by £27.8billion. Data mobility also has a wider impact on digital innovation (for example, the development of new technologies such as artificial intelligence), which could have a significantly greater effect on GDP. The National Data Strategy aims to increase usability and accessibility of data, providing a wealth of business and employment opportunities. 

Brexit will create plenty of challenges, but it also provides the chance to improve existing systems. The UK’s existing data regulation standards are generally approved of by the EU, so it’s vital to maintain this high standard and commit to sharing data internationally. However, this increased independence provides the opportunity to listen to domestic concerns. For example, recent research conducted by FTSE 100 software company, Sage, found that ‘Complex and expensive processes, exacerbated by lack of trust between institutions’ was a major factor holding back business performance of SMEs. The National Data Strategy promises to prioritise SMEs and hypothetically the goverment should be able to use this increased independence to do so.

The National Data Strategy can also support other government initiatives. For example, within the healthcare sector, data can improve care, treatment and give patients better control over their information. The Department of Health’s new strategy ‘Data saves lives’ aims to further the use of data within healthcare. In addition, the government has set a target to be ‘net zero’ by 2050. Using data for climate risk management, environmental monitoring and the creation of new solutions (particularly those that businesses can implement to reduce carbon emissions), will help to achieve this net zero goal.


Challenges


Concerns have been raised over the lack of specific targets in the National Data Strategy and the need for a defined action plan. For example, the strategy report emphasises the need to close the ‘cyber skills’ gap, without setting out how this will be addressed. Software company, Kainos, and AI innovator, Faculty, have suggested introducing data science into the school curriculum as a concrete step the Government could take in solving this problem.

Data privacy is another issue. The strategy mentions both its aim to increase data accessibility, but also the importance of public trust. Lack of public trust can seriously undermine the efficiency of data-driven solutions — COVID-19 contact tracing systems were seriously hampered by this in several countries. It’s vital any upcoming regulatory changes outline how data privacy will be protected.


Overall, the National Data Strategy has been positively received as it highlights the importance of data for both economic and social growth. However, the impact of the strategy will depend upon its execution and consideration of issues such as data privacy. The government is expected to outline further actions in due course, the details of which will be eagerly awaited by the technology industry.