The public sector’s crusade to an open information exchange

The public sector’s crusade to an open information exchange

By Lucie Glenday, chief digital officer, Surrey County Council 

‘Digital’ is a dangerous term as it means many things to many different people. In a recent poll, the majority of the public associated radio with it, but others might find websites or social media are more suitable connotations. The higher echelons of Government most commonly associate digital with channel shift or putting transactions online. As the term is so hard to pin down, we are beginning to shy away from it here at Surrey County Council. Rather than focusing on the channels of the digital world, we are interested in their underlying connections. 

My team and I work across organisational boundaries, joining up digital information and promoting an internal thought approach that encompasses entire technology systems, not just insular channels. In doing so, we are creating a way for data and knowledge to flow freely to where it is needed most. This helps us to realise mandatory efficiency savings, be smarter about how we deploy our resources, and, most importantly, make things better for our residents. 

Unlike many other councils which have technologies and organisational cultures set up in a way that allows them to only focus on the delivery of their services, this open-minded approach to data means we can also understand whether these actually achieve the desired outcomes – because that’s what most residents really value. Street lighting, police on patrol, regular litter collection, or youth clubs are great citizen services, but if we ultimately want to make our streets safer, we need to understand how each of these factors deliver their distinct part towards this outcome. 

But connecting the data dots is only one little step on a big journey. Computing power is continuing to increase at a dramatic rate each year, and while we have no idea what local public services will look like in ten years, we know that they won’t be delivered in the way they are today. This is the reason we are exchanging ideas about the future workplace with other senior representatives from the private and public sector at Canon’s annual parliamentary reception next week. 

We must continue our crusade to transform the public sector by using innovative technologies and analytics to question and, at times, disrupt the status quo of service delivery. Forget about digital channels and instead look at the Internet of Things, big data analytics or artificial intelligence, which power these. They all have a home here in Surrey and are here to stay.