The Department for Work and Pensions has launched a chief data office in order to address the challenges it faces “around using data better”.
The office forms the latest part of DWP’s ongoing digital transformation programme, which has been operating under the name DWP Digital.
It will use the chief data office to move towards using data “more strategically”, in an effort to improve the experience of some 20m UK adults who use its services each year.
DWP’s chief data officer, Paul Lodge, will head up the new unit using a data strategy compiled by Katharine Purser, the department’s data strategy and enablement head.
The first priority will be to ensure DWP is consistently using data in a secure, legal and ethical way.
“DWP is [the] custodian of more than 200tb [terabytes] of data,” Purser said in a statement. “That’s the equivalent of approximately 67bn single-spaced A4 pages of text, and this is growing in both volume and diversity at a rate of about 10 per cent a year – including new data types such as voice and video.”
One solution to this growing storage problem would be to improve DWP’s ability to re-use data, according to Purser. Currently, the department’s systems don’t allow for this.
“Data is collected in different systems at different times for different purposes, which means that it can be inconsistent or duplicated, and it can’t easily be re-used across multiple systems,” she explained.
“The information which records where data came from and why, how valid it is, or how old it is, is also different in different systems, which means it can be difficult to know which is the right piece of data to re-use for the right purpose in other processes or systems. So, when it comes to improving our ability to re-use that data, we have our work cut out.”
Purser said she hopes the new chief data office will achieve a “step change” in DWP’s use of data, by enabling more cross-departmental conversations.
“We already have pockets of excellence in data custodianship and data management across the organisation, but the chief digital office will look to make sure that all teams across the department who use data take the best of what we know and apply it in a consistent way,” Purser explained.
“It’s important that everyone who touches data understands their responsibilities. Of course, this doesn’t just apply to citizen data, but also to the vast amount of data we hold about our own organisation, which used to better effect can really help us run services more efficiently and effectively.”
With the focus for the first year on driving up quality, compliance and consistency in DWP’s data sharing capabilities, the government department said it will then look to “build out on other data management policies from there”.