Can you learn to be data-driven, or is it in the DNA? 


Most of us occasionally stand back and marvel at the meteoric rise of businesses succeeding in the algorithm economy. Not only are they steeped in data decisioning, but it’s also in their DNA. True, they are fortunate to be born of big data and in the advanced analytics era. But what if you are not so fortuitous?

This could be the case in the public sector, where most organisations built their core processes in the pre-algorithm era. So what should you do? Carry on with traditional business models and approaches to data use, or try to acquire the same mindset – the same data-driven mentality – as the digital generation? And even if the latter is possible, how can you achieve such a huge cultural shift? 

I believe the public sector has the potential to become far more data-driven than it is today. It will help to deliver far more efficient services, personalised experiences and support with better outcomes for citizens and organisations. And it will also help meet the expectations of citizens for the fast, digital, personalised services that they enjoy in their lives as consumers. What needs to happen, then, in order to become data-driven?  

3 steps to become data-driven

Becoming truly data-driven requires a few essential ingredients. I’ll outline them below, then look at how to make them an everyday reality for every public sector organisation. 

Firstly, it must all start with exploring every possible means to collect more data, including new types, that could help you to understand better the citizens and organisations you serve. Is the right data available?  Some of it might come from collecting IoT data from the environments in which your department operates. And some of it might be generated by the digitisation of services.

Secondly, once you have tapped into big data, it must be accessible. In other words, if you want to design a culture where your people think of data first, you must make it easy to access. This means you cannot lock it up in silos. And infrastructure must be put in place to make data accessible from the CEO to senior responsible officers to frontline service staff. Slowly but surely, as you promote the infrastructure in place to make information accessible, you will change the mindset. You will have a culture where the answers to almost every question can be extracted from data. This reliance on data is one of the core tenets of data-driven businesses born into the analytics or algorithm economy.   

Thirdly and most importantly, public sector organisations must play catch-up in the realm of "ability." This means accessing the best possible data science and analyst skills to work with data to extract more value from it. The public sector must find a way to compete for skills with the commercial sector. If you don’t, will you be able to access the deep data insights that can drive service efficiency, transform citizen outcomes, and improve the satisfaction and work-life balance of employees? And particularly those in the emergency services and health and social care professions? Will the public sector be able to underpin all decision making with advanced analytics and automate many activities with artificial intelligence in the same way that truly data-driven businesses do? Probably not. 

Competing for talent

So how can you achieve this last critical step? Naturally, there will be an element of "buying talent." However, this is untenable in the long term, considering the budget restrictions public sector departments continue to face. And especially as data science salaries continue to increase at a healthy rate. Can technology come to the rescue? Are there any analytical capabilities that can help to attract data scientists into the public sector? I believe the answer to that is yes. And that’s because I think data scientists are innately creative. 

Exploration and experimentation motivate people in these roles. Therefore, any analytical platform that can provide the freedom to achieve this while allowing data scientists to build models and run analyses in the coding languages they love will help you to attract talent. Of course, from a governance and ethics perspective, public sector organisations will require that platform to underpin all activities with robust security, governance and ethics frameworks, powering all output with best-in-class analytical techniques to ensure fairness and quality are at the fore. 

Exploration and experimentation motivate data scientists. Therefore, any analytical platform that can provide the freedom to achieve this while building models and run analyses in the coding languages they love will be attractive. Click To Tweet

Is there an analytics platform that provides such a combination of attributes? I do know that SAS has successfully incorporated all these elements into its core offering. We are today working at the heart of many public sector organisations, such as the DWP, HMRC and the MoD. We also provide wide-ranging education programmes that ensure data scientists are equipped to generate the maximum possible value from an investment in SAS technologies, which are open source compatible.

My feeling is that becoming truly data-driven is eminently possible. It just requires superior access to available data, but most importantly, it requires mindset change supported by the best possible skills and technologies. And it requires action to be taken today. 

If you would like to know more, please click here.       

This blog was written by SAS UK&I and it was first published on Civil Service World. For further information please contact



About Author

Katrina Wakefield

Marketing Manager, SAS UK

Katrina has been working within the technology industry for over 15 years, ensuring that any marketing activity addresses the business issues that technology can solve. With a passion for public sector and helping them understand the benefits of how data can help transform the way they make decisions.

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