Using basic data to improve public services

The digitization of public services is at the very top of government agendas across Europe, but the lack of accessible and reliable data, such as core information about individuals and businesses, creates challenges for digital administration.

This information, called basic data or register, is re-used throughout the public sector and is an important basis for public authorities to perform their tasks properly and efficiently. Not least because an ever-greater number of tasks must be performed digitally and across units, departments and sectors. Without accurate and accessible basic data, true joined up services will always remain an illusion.

Basic data also has great value for the private sector, firstly because businesses use this data in their internal processes and, secondly, because the information contained in public-sector data can be exploited for entirely new products and solutions, in particular digital ones. In short, good basic data, which is freely available to the private sector, is a potential driver for innovation, growth, and job creation.

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Back to basics

Basic data is structured fundamental data that is common for many purposes. It can include private addresses and contact details for citizens and registered companies. This type of data is used repeatedly, across the entire public sector and is essential for public authorities to efficiently perform tasks like collecting taxes, administering healthcare, or paying welfare benefits.

High-quality basic data needs to be accurate, complete, and up to date. Establishing a common basic data infrastructure for both public and private sector administration which can be updated in one place and used by everyone, would be a huge societal benefit, providing it was secure. For example, managing data in this way would mean that the public no longer need to re-type the same information every time they use a public self-service solution, and in turn makes for a smoother transition for public-sector employees to work more efficiently.

However, some countries have technical and information governance issues to consider in order to launch mass data projects. Along with this comes the consideration of who is going to use it, replacing older legacy or manual systems (paper-based procedures), implementation time and the cost versus the future long-term benefits.

Easily accessible basic data will provide many tangible benefits to the public, businesses, and authorities alike. Businesses, especially SMEs, can save substantial amounts when they no longer have to buy basic data from public authorities to create their solutions, providing new opportunities for innovation, jobs, and growth within the country. This data can help to develop new types of digital solutions and services which will benefit the wider society.

Using basic data in the UK

The pandemic saw an increase in digital transformation projects across private and public sectors as central and local authorities and healthcare systems responded to Covid-19, and employees moved to remote working.

The surge in NHS patient treatment backlogs exacerbated by the pandemic, is currently estimated to be about 6.1 million in England, and is predicted to increase over the next few years to 10 million by 2024. The adoption of accurate basic data to support important NHS services could help to reduce these backlogs. This also includes providing services for healthcare professionals, pharmacists, and other agencies with up-to-date patient records so that public health bodies can build reliable and trusted data sources that are automatically updated across various registers.

The challenge is the lack of a widely adopted government ID that is consistent with or linked to the health records of patients. Existing registers are reliant on patients maintaining their health records by visiting their GP. This poses a challenge for communicating to vital treatment information to the public because healthy citizens such as young people visit their GP far less frequently than vulnerable or elderly people and this leads to a lack of updated records. It is a difficult transition moving from a local model where citizens discuss health with their GP to a centralized model for around 68 million people.

Tangible benefits

There are still a lot of manual processes in place where UK citizens must complete paper forms, which often result in typos and other errors when inputting data into systems. This can be resolved when putting the citizens’ information into their own hands saving operations on IT systems to fix these errors.

Basic data also reduces the pressure on GPs and puts their time back into directly helping patients  with treatment rather than administration. Stephen Koch, Executive Director of Platforms at NHS, has stated that throughout the last couple of years the NHS have started to implement text and email-based communications and have seen a huge number of improvements -- of around 1.1 million updates made to citizen details by citizens themselves. From the start of the pandemic, the NHS has seen an increase in the number of citizen-held email addresses rise from 31 to 45 percent, and the records of mobile numbers listed rose from 81 to 87 percent, out of the 64 million records held.  It is less common for people to change their email and phone numbers compared to property addresses, which result in limiting the creation of new records, thus, making it easier for the healthcare system to communicate digitally on upcoming treatments, especially on vaccinations rather than by post to UK citizens.

The types of information are also expanding within these registers. Historically the data was based on sex and age, but there are increasing opportunities to collaborate with other registers which hold data on ethnicity and other health risk factors which are important is detecting illness patterns and communicating on upcoming or missed treatments.

Scaling basic data systems

Developing and designing scalable digital platforms for innovative public and private services is no mean feat, and a successful shift to highly flexible infrastructure demands a team that understands the power of available technology to create great services for the user.

To succeed, we need to reform by removing rigorous administration and digitizing as many aspects as possible and focusing our energy and capital on things that matter most, such as healthcare or education.

Image credit: ml12nan/depositphotos.com

Prahlad Koti, is a Partner at Netcompany. If you are interested in finding out more on this topic, there is a series of online broadcasts -- including a range of high-profile experts who share their insights around basic data’s enormous potential -- available to explore at https://govtech.netcompany.com/basic-data

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