‘You should be able to see your entire interaction with us’ – HMRC promises to put its mountain of data to customer-centric use
Organisation’s first-ever CDO looks to improve how the department processes and uses information
HM Revenue and Customs’ first chief data officer has promised that the department will develop a data strategy that is “completely customer-centric”.
Kevin Fletcher said that the first part of HMRC’s plan to better use data would focus on “maximising revenue”. The department intends to achieve this via three strategic initiatives: focusing on customers; promoting compliance and preventing non-compliance; and reducing mistakes.
The second section of the CDO’s mission will involve establishing digital tax accounts, supporting intermediaries, and “delivering for government”. Collectively, these three add up to a wider mission to “transform tax and payments”, Fletcher said.
Given that HMRC takes in data primarily from external sources and puts out data for use across the rest of Whitehall and the wider public sector, fostering effective procedures for processing information is of paramount importance, Fletcher said.
“We personally generate very little data – almost all of it is third-party data. It comes from suppliers or vendors, or from businesses, or from citizens, filling out tax returns,” he said. “We need to understand how data flows through [the organisation], and make sure we have the processes in place to understand that.”
Fletcher added: “We are not making this data ourselves, so an important job of work is that the quality of data that flows in is absolutely tip top. There is lots of data from lots of different sources, and an important part of the job is making sure that we are prioritising.”
The volume of the data in question is astronomical.
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The department’s Connect tool for detecting non-compliance holds 22 billion lines of data. HMRC’s systems for collecting debt – some £44.3bn of it a year – hold a further 25 billion lines of data.
A total of 2.8 million business users and 12.8 million individuals have online tax accounts. On January 31 – the deadline for completing online tax returns – HMRC had 3.2 million visitors in a single day.
But, Fletcher told attendees at the Big Data LDN event, simply possessing such an enormous wealth of data is little use in and of itself. The goal is, ultimately, to use data to help provide citizens with a seamless offering that covers all their various engagements with the tax agency.
“If data really is the new oil, it is no good in the ground,” he said. “We are bringing that tax data and our activity data into use. We are being completely customer centric, [with the aim] that when you are interacting with us, you get the chance to see your entire interaction.”
Following Fletcher’s appointment to the newly created CDO position, HMRC is “recruiting and backing additional data-science capability across the organisation”, he said.
The data chief added that, for others in his position, setting out with a clear vision and attracting board-level sponsorship is critical to rolling out a successful data strategy. He added that humility and diversity are two qualities needed by any data team – all of which need some “quick wins” to justify their role.
Something that especially applies to the data leader of an organisation as vast and complex as HMRC.
“The organisation is not going to wait for me to build this data architecture,” he said.
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