IT expert shares some insight as to how the UK is leveraging data for good.
Big data has become an indisputable necessity of business over the past decade, helping organizations make digitally-driven decisions and completely transform virtually all industries, from marketing to financial services to healthcare. Countries such as China, India and Germany are all well-known to be leveraging data and demonstrating powerful results. But our friends across the pond are also using data as its transformational fuel in exciting ways — and they may actually be leading the pack.
The United Kingdom has been working diligently on positioning itself as one of the greatest tech and financial hubs of the world. Theodore Knott, Policy Programmes Manager at BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT, shared some insight as to how the UK is leveraging data for good. “Data is the lifeblood of many new jobs and technologies in the UK. While it may not quite be ‘the new oil,’ as it has been fashionable to say in recent years, it is undoubtedly a vital part of the UK’s future,” he said.
According to Knott, technology has long been a source of immense strength for the UK — and has been an area that has defied political and economic headwinds better than any other major industry over the past decade. Since the global financial crisis in 2008, the tech sector in the UK has grown at a faster rate than any other industry, producing jobs at twice the rate of other sectors, with salaries 30 per cent higher than the national average.
Even with statistics this impressive, Knott says there is likely more growth to come. The UK is home to more tech unicorns (startups with a market value of over $1 billion) than anywhere else in Europe, and the number of jobs requiring advanced digital skills is growing by the day.
Digital transformation in government
While digital transformation has completely overhauled our processes and the way we work, Knott says leveraging digital in government has been difficult at the best of times. “A failure to unite different government agencies, who often have non-complementary technologies and a vested interest in not changing them, has hamstrung the ability of many countries across Europe to improve services through the use of citizens’ data,” he said.
Despite this, the UK has done an excellent job of implementing digital transformation. This is exemplified through the world-leading gov.uk website, which enables people to do everything from paying their taxes to renewing their driver’s licenses. The UK has subsequently ranked highly in the UN E-Government Development Index (an international measure of digital transformation progress) for several years.
Paving the way for FinTech
After dusting itself off from a tense time over the late 2000s, the finance industry has been chomping at the bit to rebuild trust with its customers and society at large. Enter FinTech — an emerging, innovative application of new software that aims to compete with traditional methods in the delivery of financial services. FinTech is transforming the world of finance and has the ability to create positive change in trade, health, employment, education and other industries. The UK is helping spearhead that FinTech movement.
“With the UK being both a financial and tech hub, it’s unsurprising that it has been a key developer of FinTech: data-driven technologies being used to support financial services and banking. The UK FinTech sector is over twice as big as Germany’s, its nearest European competitor, and is considered by many experts to be the most advanced in the developed world, with only China and India being ahead on a global level,” said Knott.
Leading in ethics
There is rarely a day without a major story regarding the misuse of data in the UK. Whether it be social media platforms sharing data without consent or a third party hacking a major company, stories of this nature are more frequent year by year. Knott says the role of regulation to mitigate these negative effects is still a work in progress. “Regulation is facing numerous challenges, ranging from the difficulty in regulating multinational corporations without multinational agreement, to technology changing faster than legislation can keep up,” he said.
In an effort to remedy this, the UK has developed a different type of response to these problems by setting up the Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation. The first of its kind in the world, the centre provides a government-funded organization designed specifically to make the most of new technologies, while ensuring that they’re designed for the good of society, earning public trust and support.
While the centre is still in its infancy and its success or failure is yet to be seen, it represents another way in which the UK is ahead of the curve when it comes to understanding the power of data.
A work in progress
Despite all these achievements, there are still limitations to the UK’s position as a leader in data, particularly in the area of healthcare. According to Knott, despite the success of other government transformation projects, the UK’s government-funded National Health Service (NHS) has been sluggish in utilizing data records and other innovations compared to equivalent nations.
The extent of this issue is shown by the fact that the NHS, up until 2018, purchased more fax machines than any other organization in the world. In addition, there is a large and growing digital skills gap, which, if left unchallenged, will cause the UK a multitude of problems as more and more jobs require advanced digital skills.