On 11 September 2019, the UK Regulators’ Network (UKRN) published a report on the state of infrastructure data sharing in the UK, aiming to identify how data sharing across the infrastructure industry can be enhanced to generate significant benefits for the UK’s digital economy.
Primarily, the report identified a series of significant barriers and challenges to data sharing, which ostensibly prevent the development of full digital transformation programmes around the UK. In particular, the report highlighted issues related to:
- Confidential Data. The report noted industry concerns over the risk of misuse of confidential data (data that is commercially confidential, confidential due to national security reasons or data that contains personal information) particularly when this is provided to competitors. It also recognised the importance of regulatory data protection requirements such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in helping protect some types of data, but noted that this increased the complexity of sharing data. Guidance from the regulators clarifying what data can be shared, including best practice guidelines was deemed to be a requirement moving forward.
- Common data standards. The report also highlighted that different sectors have different data standards leading to inconsistencies in data sharing and a lack of compatibility across sectors. This could also apply within sectors, where different organisations or different parts of the same organisation collected, classified and structured data differently. This suggested that there is a requirement for a common language across sectors i.e. in the form of a common data standard, definitions and shared framework.
- Liability. The report indicated that some companies are worried about the liability risks associated with sharing data about asset location or quality. This was particularly the case if that data was old or low quality.
- Data quality. Where companies are required to provide data to the regulator, for instance for purposes of price controls, there can be concern about the extent to which they are able to be open about data quality issues, particularly with historic or unaudited data, without being penalised. Both companies and regulators will need to have transparent, open conversations about wider data-sharing where this is the case.
- Lack of a user-friendly central portal. There were discussions around current data platforms, such as data.gov.uk, that are not always deemed to be user friendly and can be difficult to navigate. Participants taking part in the research agreed that the lack of a central portal to access other organisations’ asset data makes data sharing more difficult, and that a central gateway containing the ‘what is it, where is it and who owns it’ from each organisation would be beneficial in moving things forward.
- Organisational culture. The results of the report highlighted that organisational culture can be a potential factor inhibiting data sharing. A poor understanding of what data can be shared and concern about risks around security and liability, particularly among senior management, means this work is not always prioritised within organisations. Named accountability at Board level and defined ownership at senior level were suggested ways for data sharing to be a priority within organisations. Training and guidelines on data sharing (that are understood at all levels of the organisation) were seen as ways to improve organisational culture, with data quality measures incorporated into organisations’ Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).
Acknowledging these obstacles, the report then outlines a number of long-term and short-term recommendations. The long-term recommendations suggested that:
- Regulators provide guidance around what data can be shared
- Regulators produce best practice guidelines around sharing data
- Industry works collaboratively, with support from regulators, to agree common data standards, definitions and shared framework
- Government and/or regulators explore the creation of a central data portal that holds the ‘what, where and who' for each asset in each sector
In the short-term, the report indicates that:
- The Infrastructure Client Group should consider increasing the membership of the Digital Transformation Task Group to a wider working group incorporating more industry representatives
- Ownership of data should be defined at a senior level
- Accountability should be named at board level (i.e. a Chief Information Officer)
- Organisational culture - training and guidelines on data sharing- should be understood at all levels of the organisation
- Consistent data quality measures to become part of company KPIs so that the whole business is focused on improving capabilities
If you would like any further information on the report, or are interested in the work that techUK is doing in this space, please don't hestiate to get in touch with the team, or email Tom.Henderson@techUK.org directly!