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Data anxiety to delay the UK government’s digital ambitions?

Could data anxiety cause delay to the UK government’s digital ambitions?
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Blackboard)

As uncertainty has taken hold, digital transformation has proven to be a lifeline for many. Businesses across the country boosted expenditure on technology, switching their entire operation from physical to digital overnight. And they are not alone. The UK Government has been busy laying out its digital strategy, strengthening its digital leadership, and investing in innovation.

But as we look ahead to rebuilding and reinforcing government-run digital services beyond the current crisis, we must first address the elephant in the room. Almost half of government leaders still lack confidence in cloud security.

Refresh to refocus

After a year in which cloud computing technology has been key to conversations around defending the nation against the coronavirus, this might seem surprising. Take initiatives like the NHS Home Testing Service, or one of the many digital projects that have helped determine which hospitals needed PPE, oxygen, and beds through collecting and analyzing data. While in crisis mode, it has been possible to operate with the necessary agility to solve challenges due to the widespread adoption of the cloud. Looking ahead, the ability to sustain this innovation will require confidence. And the key to renewed confidence, in this instance, has been a leadership refresh.

The UK government recently appointed three senior digital, data, and technology leaders to shape and deliver its innovation and transformation. Despite not actually being new roles, this refresh among the government’s digital leadership will undoubtedly refocus the team on its transformation journey in better leveraging data and emerging technologies.

And for good reason, the UK’s digital ambition is no secret. Hiked-up spending on research and development as well as a further £200m set aside to unlock health technology and life science innovation, mean that the UK government must get this right – and quickly.

But if our latest research study is anything to go by, ‘Communication and Collaboration in the new normal’, the UK government have their work cut out for them – at least in ridding digital anxiety.

Digital anxiety rife among public sector

The new survey reveals that a concerningly high percentage of UK government leaders (45%) across central, local, and healthcare organizations are still unsure of their policy around data storage – with 46% agreeing that cybersecurity concerns are a top inhibitor to cloud adoption. In fact, when asked if storing data in a UK data center is a deciding factor for adopting cloud storage solutions, a third (35%) of respondents say their data must absolutely reside within the UK while 8% say that their data can be stored in any secure center globally. The uncertainty is palpable.

The survey highlights a disconnect between the government’s ambitions and the day-to-day reality when it comes to digital transformation and the management of it. As the dust settles on the Brexit trade agreement, the UK is unlikely to reach a data protection agreement with the EU until June – at least. These factors combined with a highly anxious workforce could hinder the roll-out of much needed IT modernization initiatives. Data storage concerns could be detrimental to the UK’s economic recovery – let alone digital ambitions.

The answer to this conundrum is straightforward: you can’t run before you can walk. To succeed, we must go back to the basics. Digital transformation is as cultural as it is technical and educating the workforce to bring them along with a data-driven organization is essential. Our survey engaged 724 participants from across 587 organizations on the use of technology in government for new working practices. The findings underscore the breadth and depth of education required.

Addressing security concerns

Against this uncertain and changing backdrop, leaders have an opportunity to reimagine this “new normal” with technology, supporting both colleagues and citizens to create organizational resilience and improve service delivery. As such, when it comes to understanding where responsibility lies for cloud security, the workforce must understand it requires a collaborative effort.

Every member of the team must be aligned and work together to eliminate threats. This calls for awareness and often behavior change, which can be achieved through regular training and collective accountability. In fact, clear, realistic, and forward-thinking data management policies will help to empower and enable change – rather than hinder it. Meanwhile, government services need to be designed and operated with both transparency and security as a core consideration to boost citizen trust.

Understanding data policy

Ultimately, the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) principles paved the way for more stringent data storage and processing practices, that provide an essential mechanism to protect data privacy. In light of Brexit, the UK has so far retained these principles and they continue to form the binding blueprint for best practice data management. Those who grasp these concepts will be better positioned to protect citizen data, responding in a timely fashion to breaches and ultimately protecting their organizations from hefty fines – or worse, reputational damage.

Those that have built the principles of GDPR into their digital services and day-to-day operations are best positioned to adapt to any further changes, come what may. There will also be fewer unknowns and therefore less legitimate cause for concern. This is not just a matter of empowering the workforce, it is a matter of law – and once again, it is a shared responsibility across entire organizations. They say a problem shared is a problem halved. If all members of an organization are brought up to speed, trust one another and their leaders to enact the regulation effectively, communicating clearly on any potential breaches, there is little to be anxious about.

Once fears over the complexity and security of data managed via the cloud are overcome, the government will be one step closer to embodying the high-tech leader it purports to be. But bridging the gap between the reality within the public sector and glitzy ambition for the UK’s digital future is critical. Technology will only guide us out of the pandemic and more economic uncertainty if it can be truly, confidently mastered by its users. We must bring the entire workforce along for the ultimate digital transformation.

  • Steve Rafferty is the Country Manager for the UK & Ireland at RingCentral.