Public sector workers need to start making better use of Big Data to keep track of customers and their specific needs, according to a new report by the think tank Demos and business analytics firm SAS.
The report, entitled "The Data Dividend", highlights that more than 16 million people routinely hand over valuable personal information with their Tesco Clubcards or Sainsbury's and Homebase Nectar cards, but government has no equivalent method of quickly capturing everyday data.
The report recommends issuing frontline public sector staff with smartphones and tablets, allowing them to access and log data while on the go. In particular, it suggests setting up an encrypted database combining health and social care services, that could be constantly updated with information on at-risk families.
This would help social and health workers prevent overlap of provision, reduce back-room administration and minimise occurrences of public sector workers overlooking serious problems, the report states. Demos pointed to a successful scheme in Berlin, which gives civil servants access to databases when visiting care homes for the elderly and hospitals in deprived areas.
"We want Big Data to become the public servant's friend and to aide them in delivering public services cheaper and more effectively," said Max Wind-Cowie, head of the Progressive Conservatism project at Demos and co-author of The Data Dividend report.
"Advances in smart technology make it possible for public servants to record information live as they do their jobs - no more heading back to the office to file piles of forms - and to benefit from their colleagues inputting in real time too. A relatively modest investment in smart tech for frontline workers could save the taxpayer millions in unproductive hours of bureaucracy whilst showing public servants the relevance and use of data to them in the real world of the work that they do."
The data collected should also be made available to the general public, where possible, and members of the public should be encouraged to offer their insight and opinions, the report states. Data analysis should also be incorporated more broadly into the school curriculum, enabling children to apply data analysis to a wide range of real-life scenarios.
"The government needs to do more to encourage the public by demonstrating that the information it holds can be used to improve frontline services," said Graham Kemp, head of public sector for SAS UK. "If the government is to deliver on its promise of open data and more citizen-centric services, real-time access to data, powered by analytics, must be at the heart of its information strategy."
The UK government spends a considerably higher amount on IT than the US and many major European countries, but this money is not always spent wisely.
Demos state that technology that harvests data on consumers, such as that gathered by Tesco or Amazon, yields only 2 percent of usable data, suggesting that the benefits of this kind of scheme are limited. However, both the UK government and the European Union are keen to make better use of public data.
"Open data is a powerful instrument to increase transparency in public administration, improving the visibility of previously inaccessible information, informing citizens and business about policies, public spending and outcomes," said the EC in December.