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5 ways to unlock value in government data

The key to governments’ ability to unlock their data potential is an interoperable and connected data landscape, new research shows.

Government data management for the digital age,” a McKinsey report published Sept. 20, offers five ways agencies can reach that goal. The first step is setting a vision based on tangible, achievable use cases, which should be representative of larger applications and goals. Prioritizing solutions that are relevant to other comparable government services will ensure transferability in the future and help avoid narrow initiatives. Plus, the authors state, “if governments were to redesign their data landscapes entirely, the task would be too large.”

The second action is understanding and navigating the relevant data landscape. That means governments must be transparent about those prioritized use cases. To gain that insight, the report recommends, governments should map relevant registers – or datasets used by governments for a specific purpose -- and include their semantic and technical characteristics. With that information, they can “know what they know” about what data is available and where it resides.

The third piece is offering relevant infrastructure components centrally. With a set of standardized components that enable data sharing for many uses, data stored in silos can be made interoperable and connected, the authors say. This kind of centralized infrastructure needs five components: unique identifiers, technical standards, a service directory, intermediaries for security and privacy protections, and a data tracker and consent management.

The fourth element is the speedy delivery of incremental “wins” because although these efforts take time, agencies must demonstrate success to maintain support. “To deliver impact quickly, governments may deploy ‘data labs’ -- agile implementation units with cross-functional expertise that focus on specific use cases,” the report recommends. Those lab solutions can then be “rapidly developed, tested, iterated and, once successful, rolled out at scale. “

The final action is establishing a central agency that can recruit data-savvy workers, set data governance and data quality management rules and be responsible for the IT architecture for a common data-exchange infrastructure, the report states.

The authors also highlight six key benefits that make creating an interoperable and connected data environment worth the effort. They include improving customer experience, enhancing data protection and privacy as well as reducing fraud, waste and abuse.

Another benefit is increasing administrative efficiency. In Germany, for example, officials used interoperable and connected government data to reduce by 60% the case-processing time for key public services. The report also points to the Netherlands, which pulls data from existing databases for its census -- an approach that “incurs up to 99 percent less costs than a traditional survey-based method.”

Enabling data-driven policymaking is another benefit, according to the report. Denmark’s government uses geodata to simulate flooding scenarios to improve emergency response and long-term investment decisions, for instance. “To build the complex models required, data from several key registers (for example, cadasters, buildings, and addresses) are combined with 3-D topographic data,” the report states.

One more benefit is in agencies’ ability to be providers of raw data and official statistics, unlocking a $3 trillion open data opportunity for the public and private sectors, according to the report.

Governments face several challenges to realizing this potential, however. For one, data is scattered, making it tough for agencies “to discern which data are in which register, or even which registers exist,” the article states. “This means there is little transparency on whether a specific data point is available somewhere in the government, whether it is available in multiple registers, or where the most current data can be found.”

Additionally, digital access to data is difficult because many registers are paper-based, and those that are digital often lack standards for the data, complicating agencies’ ability to share it.

Lastly, as the title of the report suggests, data is often not interoperable for reasons including the lack of a uniform legal framework for using data, consistent logic across data and a uniform technical format.

“Digital society’s lifeblood is data -- and governments have lots of data, representing a significant latent source of value for both the public and private sectors,” the report states. “If used effectively, and keeping in mind ever-increasing requirements with regard to data protection and data privacy, data can simplify delivery of public services, reduce fraud and human error, and catalyze massive operational efficiencies.”

About the Author

Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.

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