Data must be treated as a national asset

Written by Simon Hansford on 10 January 2020 in Opinion
Opinion

An information monopoly is a danger that must be taken seriously, argues Simon Hansford of UKCloud

Credit: Toby Melville/PA Archive/PA Images

The digital transformations we’ve seen in recent years – from traffic management and air quality to virtual GP access – are achievements to be proud of. However, there’s still more work to be done to ensure that we treat data as a national asset.

With any asset, it’s crucial to understand its value and handle it appropriately. Across the public sector, data can enhance the way governments operate and organisations function; if used intelligently, it can power the publicly-funded resources we use regularly, healthcare being one example. 

Elsewhere, national defence and local government have the potential to be supported by the valuable data sets they yield if harnessed ethically, safely, and wisely. Strict European laws around data protection benefit our citizens, so we must respect them if we are to avoid personal details falling into the wrong hands.

The benefits of a data-driven private sector are more openly discussed and seem more apparent every time we’re confronted with targeted and personalised marketing. But, it’s the untapped benefits for the public sector that could bring profound social change – and local authorities are leading the charge with data innovation in a bid to tackle the issue. 


Related content


Take Barking and Dagenham in east London, a community that’s suffered austerity, which has taken matters into its own hands by developing a social index to map out the needs of its people in a more accurate way, moving away from reliance on economic status indicating the wellbeing of its people. Local data from GPs and schools has been connected to show correlations in wellbeing and loneliness, highlighting patterns and areas of social isolation.

Nonetheless, success stories such as these are only obtainable through effective data-sharing, so it’s important the tech companies tasked with managing all of this information are trustworthy and, above all, accountable. NHS staff have already expressed discontent at the idea of big tech firms handling patient data.

Data monopolies are a real danger, as hoarding assets means no competition in the market, which inevitably raises concerns for local communities and businesses alike. Handing over the reins willingly to one or two companies can have hugely detrimental and very real consequences, as we’ve seen with Carillion. 

Formerly one of the largest suppliers of services to the public sector, Carillion’s collapse starkly illuminated the dangers of a monopoly with any provider. Having employed 43,000 staff globally, around half of them in the UK where it conducted most of its business. Infamously, when operations go awry the responsibility quickly shifts to governments to bail out collapsed firms unable to cope with the strain – so this is something we cannot afford to repeat in the technology space.

Data sovereignty
Jeff Bezos himself has admitted that “one day Amazon will fail”, so putting all our eggs in one or two baskets is neither resilient nor sustainable in the long run. Alongside the banking crisis, Carillion revealed the risk of relying so heavily on one organisation, so we must take tangible steps towards mitigating further devastating collapses for the public sector. 

Handing over the reins willingly to one or two companies can have hugely detrimental and very real consequences, as we’ve seen with Carillion 

The think-tank CEPS estimates that 92% of the western world’s data is currently stored in the US – so this is clearly a pressing problem. The establishment of the Gaia-X project indicates that steps are being made to tackle the issue, as Gaia-X been established specifically to reduce Europe’s data-fuelled dependencies in terms of a critical resource on third parties. As such, it’s paramount the UK follows suit if we are to remain competitive as a nation as Brexit draws closer

Whichever direction the conversation around data sovereignty takes us in, the UK government should treat citizen data with the value it deserves. We must be bold in our ambition and have belief in our capability – or we shall be forever stuck between the rock and the hard place that will be Europe and the US. In turn, the UK will ultimately be deprived of our digital resilience – the national capability that we desperately need amid the continuing geopolitical uncertainty.

 

About the author

Simon Hansford is chief executive of UKCloud

Share this page

Tags

Categories

CONTRIBUTIONS FROM READERS

Please login to post a comment or register for a free account.

Related Articles

The pandemic has exposed the government’s broken digital promises
9 February 2021

While other countries adapted seamlessly to digital doctors' consultations and online teaching, coronavirus showed how little progress the UK has really made, believes Jack Perschke of netcompany...

Government can no longer afford to shy away from tackling legacy IT
29 January 2021

Now is the time for government to confront a tricky and long-standing issue, according to Eleonora Harwich of Reform

Report calls for ‘more power’ in Whitehall to be centralised
26 January 2021

UK’s top two civil servants should be handed more responsibility as part of drive to make Cabinet Office more effective, says IfG

Related Sponsored Articles

How digital is helping Defence Medical Services re-imagine HM Armed Forces healthcare
3 February 2021

Defence Medical Services (DMS) is pursuing ground-breaking digital, data and technology transformation which will revolutionise Tri-Service healthcare provision to over 135,000 Armed...

How Your Privacy Program is a Competitive Differentiator
29 January 2021

OneTrust presents the reasons why your organisation should invest in privacy management - and offers three easy tips for getting started 

Email security incidents happen every 12 hours – it’s time to close the gap in Microsoft 365
21 January 2021

The remote-first world has seen email being relied on more than ever as a core communication mechanism - but with 93% of IT leaders acknowledging a risk to sensitive data, what steps should be...

The rapid, low-risk cloud transition solution for Oracle customers
1 March 2021

Jointly, Equinix and Cintra enable organisations with mission-critical Oracle workloads to accelerate their journey to cloud, while minimising transition risks - here's how