In the modern online environment, individuals expect to be able to complete a wide range of everyday transactions at the tap of an app. The CBI has seen businesses rise to this challenge by seeking new ways to understand their customers, harnessing their personal data to identify trends and predict preferences and behaviours, ultimately innovating exciting new services and offers.
But utilising big data is not the reserve of private commerce: the CBI sees a huge potential opportunity for public services. With efficiency savings no longer sufficient to sustain progress on deficit reduction, public services need to be transformed. Taking advantage of big data will be essential. Online and technological innovations could help provide a higher quality of service to the individual and improve access, as well as continuing to save the taxpayer money.
Take the NHS as an example: it faces a funding gap of £34bn by 2020 and is under pressure from an ageing and growing population. Until very recently, the NHS would have struggled to identify how many patients across the country are undergoing different types of treatments, let alone track the causes and trends in healthcare treatment based on age, gender, geography and other key indicators at scale.
As the saying goes, prevention is better than cure. Data analysis is helping to transform the NHS and unlock an opportunity for our health service to share information about the care that people receive inside and outside of hospitals and create a better picture of citizens and patients. This allows the NHS to predict health outcomes and to identify opportunities for early intervention and preventative measures, ultimately raising our quality of life and avoiding preventable deaths.
Policing is another good example of how data can drive transformation in public services. Using publicly shared information, intelligence gathered by frontline officers and data from local authorities and social services can help identify and stem the underlying causes of crime before it happens. For example the government’s ‘Troubled Families’ programme. Here police, local authorities and other public bodies share and use data they collect to create a better picture of the causes of street and youth crime. They then come up with targeted interventions to help create safer streets and keep more young people on the right track.
Businesses have a positive role to play in driving this innovation by creating the models that services can then adopt, or even designing specific tools for service delivery. The challenge is improving understanding and transparency about how government and business is using personal information. If businesses and government want to make progress and unlock the full potential of big data they must work together more strategically and communicate with the public in an open and transparent way, to build trust.
As James Wood Krutch put it, ‘technology made large populations possible; large populations now make technology indispensable’. The pressures facing public services from our growing and ageing population are huge. We must all get behind the drive to ensure that responsible and effective use of our data can be used to improve our public services and our lives.