Data-driven initiatives are making it easier for 91% of public sector employees to do their job, yet security fears continue to hold many organisations back.

Big data has the potential to improve public services, cut costs and improve efficiency, which would lead to increased profitability and higher customer satisfaction, and the public sector has access to some of the most complete and trustworthy data sets available.

Yet, according to a new report from Big Data LDN, titled The Public Sector Data Report, 24% of public sector enterprises do not currently share any data with other organisations in the sector.

Cybersecurity is at the centre of this, with 20% of industry leaders expressing security concerns as the main fear.

Lacking cybersecurity in the public sector was exposed in 2017 by the WannaCry ransomware attack, which saw the NHS particularly badly hit. Reliance on outdated IT systems allowed the threat to spread across the organisation, infecting more than 200,000 devices and costing more than £90m in damage.

With the implementation of the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) last year, ensuring that data is kept secure is now even more important. Under GDPR, organisations can face fines of up to €20m or 4% of global annual turnover for breaches, with successful breaches potentially costing large organisations hundreds of millions. Some 13.6% believe that fear of data loss or breach is holding back the public sector, while 5.5% cited GDPR specifically as a concern.

Despite these fears, a recent report by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport, Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2019, highlighted how GDPR has “helped to raise the floor of cybersecurity”.  The number of businesses that now list cybersecurity as a high priority has significantly increased in the past 12 months.

Improving data literacy

While security fears may be holding some back, the public sector has seen improvements in data literacy. Some 28% of organisations said they feel their front-line staff are “confident, well-trained and empowered to make discoveries in their data”. Overall, 48% felt that the public sector is ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ data literate.

Even though the fears of security and data loss prevent some from sharing and handling data in the most effective way, it is highly encouraging to see confidence in data literacy increasing. This is absolutely vital in today’s fourth industrial revolution,” Sean Price, EMEA Director of Industry Solutions for Qlik, said.

Yet, that leaves 52% that still feel data in the public sector is not being used to its full potential, despite nine in ten having already experienced the benefits that it can offer.

“We only have to look at the fact that nearly all respondents have seen benefits from data-driven initiatives to know this is the next step to the UK’s public sector growth,” Bill Hammond, founder of Big Data LDN, said.

“Now is the time for public sector leaders to take action, make sure their employees are confident and well equipped to handle large amounts of data, rather than avoiding the issue because the data sets are ‘too large’.”

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