Achieving information excellence in the public sector

information excellence in military public sector CSC Blogs

As CSC is sponsoring the Information Knowledge and Excellence Awards at a UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) CDIO Symposium later this week, we are kicking off a blog series on Public Sector IT with a focus on information excellence.

If the challenge of the Public Sector could be summed up in one phrase, it would most likely be the “not- enough” dilemma.

It often seems, in government agencies, there’s not enough money to provide the service levels that citizens want and expect; and there’s not enough staff with enough skills to provide enough of the right information to enable the type of efficient, transparent, innovative organisation that leaders desire.

Especially when it comes to the fields of defence and security, public agencies want and need to better serve and protect citizens, always, even in a “not enough” environment. And it’s not going to get easier; asymmetric warfare and the availability/capability of consumer technology means adversaries are difficult to identify and able to quickly and effectively develop their own sophisticated IT capabilities, including C2 and cyberwarfare capabilities.

From an IT perspective, the most important asset the Public Sector has to achieve this goal is information – data that has the potential to provide a more insightful picture of what is going on locally and globally, and better support the decision-making process to tip the balance.

Most Public Sector agencies are aware of the value of information in the work they do. (And, in fact, CSC is sponsoring the Information Knowledge and Excellence Awards at a UK Ministry of Defence (MOD) Symposium later this week.) But the opportunities enabled by today’s digital technologies far exceed how agencies use information today.

In the defence environment, think how important it is to have timely and accurate situational awareness and a single coherent view of the truth, with consistent parts available to everyone in the chain of command. Personnel in military and civilian organisations should be able to access this information, securely and at a moment’s notice, in any environment, in any location around the globe. And that information needs to be presented in effective and intuitive ways to minimize workload.

On the frontlines, this access can help troops and their commanders make faster, better decisions in conflict. On the homefront, it can improve the important work of supply chain management, human resources, payroll and other corporate enterprise services.

What sounds like a simple ask is actually quite difficult to achieve! The massive data infrastructure, often requiring regional and global coverage, must be designed, integrated, deployed, managed, maintained and secured – and then the information itself must be sourced, checked, tagged, stored, mapped, analysed and turned into trusted, actionable, knowledgeable insights.

The tools – cloud, modern platforms, digital applications, big data analytics – are here and being put to use by many businesses in the private industry. But with the rate of technological change, it’s a challenge for anybody to keep up with, especially Public Sector personnel who already have immense and multiple demands made of them.

From my perspective, agencies like the MOD have huge opportunities to derive value from their existing stores of data by implementing things like automation, analysis and visualisation.

If IT can automate more of certain routine tasks, then personnel can focus more of their time on important objectives that still require human expertise, experience and, yes, some elements of gut reaction!

Similarly, data analysis and visualisation can help personnel see, quickly, the focused bits of information they need – the nugget of intel or underlying pattern which could mean the difference between mission success or failure!

Some of this requires further changes in perspective, a better understanding that data has inherent value that can be exploited and turned into knowledge and an appreciation that data should be at the very centre of IT capability development. And it requires a clear and deep understanding of the questions that really need to be asked and how to answer them, which falls into the realm of the data scientist.

With this upcoming awards event, it’s clear that a shift in perspective is well under way at the Ministry of Defence and, I think, at other public agencies. Now comes the challenge of finding the best ways to grow that information excellence in a “not enough” world.

As I said, it’s not easy and really does take full-time effort and expertise to monitor and understand the emergence and development of new tools and methods and put them to work for the organisation. The right service partner with the right experience could be just what’s needed to put an end to this “not enough” dilemma.

Mark Perry is CSC’s Industry Chief Architect for Public Sector in the UKI&NL.

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