Data has long been an invaluable tool for the development of businesses everywhere. By highlighting continuously changing user and customer behaviour and sentiment, the insight and intelligence it provides allows organisations to identify opportunities to streamline processes and address those areas where improvements can be made for greater all-round efficiency.

But the value of data isn’t exclusive to private companies. Possibilities exist for using data for the social good in British communities. Connecting the various capabilities across the country’s public sector can only help deliver better services to citizens, businesses, patients and students. Indeed, the transformation is already underway to some extent. Social care workers are already working more closely with NHS staff, and the increase in effective knowledge sharing between police and security services will better enhance nationwide safety.

But the needs of many individuals are currently being overlooked. Social behaviours – like those of a business’s customers – aren’t static. They are continually evolving, and without monitoring the right data it can be difficult to monitor social progress and the overall wellbeing of the country’s citizens.

Such is the pace of change, that almost a decade on, the findings of the 2011 census will now be largely meaningless. Government leaders therefore need to be able to compare and connect up-to-date data from across the country if they are to have a better understanding of the social landscape. And as central government typically supervises local authorities to some degree, data such as that relating to council tax benefits, housing benefits, Universal Credit and emergency services, could be used to create a more complete, accurate and current picture of the UK demographic.

It’s essential, though, that in enabling this data to be shared and used, the government ensures it will not fall into the wrong hands. The responsibility lies specifically with central government to focus efforts on passing legislation that not only protects citizens from harmful data, but also makes good use of it. And citizens must have complete confidence that any data the public services hold on them will only be used for good.

Central cloud-based repository

In common with many digital transformations – both in the public and private sectors – cloud will play a key role in this data-driven approach to social betterment. Cloud-enabled technologies such as AI and machine learning, for example, are essential for optimising the insights gleaned from the data collected.

Most government organisations are still tied to legacy infrastructure, however. So, while migrating to the cloud is necessary, it’s not necessarily straightforward, and existing anxieties around security and data leaks have significantly held back progress for public sector cloud procurement. Fortunately, the Government’s G-Cloud procurement framework offers access to a wide range of cloud providers and support services, collaboration with whom will make the transition easier and more manageable. Rather than dealing with one tech giant, public sector organisations can work with more innovative and agile startups and SMEs, increasing the efficacy of their cloud deployment – usually at a lower cost. What’s more, a multi-cloud environment is vital in these situations, allowing the public sector to modernise existing systems where necessary, while transforming new ones, and avoiding vendor lock-in.

Of course, the privacy of personal data should be prioritised throughout. Cloud providers will be obligated to ensure it is robustly protected both at rest and in transit, with strict permission controls allowing it to be accessed only by the right people, for the right reasons.

More than anything, the greatest benefits of this cloud-based approach to data sharing come from the fact that the data is held in a central repository, whether it’s consolidated on a local or a national government level.

After all, it stands to reason that a centralised database provides quick and comprehensive access to the data, ideal for the purposes of gaining a fuller picture of Britain’s demographics, and achieving joined-up services. Holding data in one location, as opposed to many, is inherently more secure too. What’s more, with less need for maintenance and management, it’s also less costly.

For the benefit of the nation

A greater understanding of the country’s citizens and their needs will require greater collaboration between public services and organisations and, equally, from citizens themselves. By sharing current data on everything from health and social care, to education and housing, government at all levels can garner a snapshot of the state of society and identify those areas that need addressing. There really is a chance to use data for social good.

To do so, the public sector must break away from inefficient legacy systems and invest in secure local cloud services that will enable the sharing, analysis and optimisation of this data.