The Raven's Blog


The complexities of Brexit and the hunt for exceptional data scientists

Christopher Gallagher, public sector – SAS, says it’s imperative that organisations have the most experienced data scientists at hand.

The Civil Service is feeling immense Brexit stress. Making the right decisions, analysing the ‘best interests’ of the nation as a whole, as well as discrete segments of the population – think farmers, for instance – has never been more important. Nor has being able to predict the likely risks and outcomes of Brexit decisions, for example on population dynamics, economic prosperity, national security, scientific endeavor, and even UK environments and planning.

In fact, every central government department and local authority will be sizing up how best to answer the challenges of EU withdrawal. The secret to uncovering the answers to the most time-critical and complex questions facing civil servants is to make far more effective and frequent use of the data already available. In addition, the Civil Service must look at new and previously unused sources of data. Imagine how social media content could be employed to analyse the sentiments of different interest groups.

We’re not alone in our thinking. Last year, John Manzoni, chief executive of the Civil Service, declared that government needed to unlock the potential of the “massive amounts of data it holds.” We applaud this sentiment and understand the huge opportunity that this wealth of data offers departments. Bold applications of analytics are already helping to create a new evidence base for policy development. However, it’s essential that we use the right data and do not spend time and resource collecting irrelevant data that will never be used and which may result in increased storage costs.

With so much risk and opportunity to navigate, it’s imperative that you have the very best and most experienced data scientists at hand.

What kinds of skills are typically available?

  1. Data scientists with deep mathematical and technical skills – typically the people who can build predictive models for you;
  2. Analysts who can help you look at the data you currently have to uncover new insights that effect change and better decision-making for your organisation and citizens;
  3. Others who are experienced in working with new sources of big data within the bounds of a more regulated world than ever, thanks to GDPR.

Critically at such a tempestuous time, collaboration is essential, so your data scientists will need to have excellent communication, organisational and team working skills.

Need a balance of skills?

But there’s a problem. There is a shortage of data science skills – and the commercial sector often has deeper pockets than yours, paying more attractive salaries. Glassdoor rated data science number one on the list of best jobs for 2017.

If competing for skills on a purely financial basis is a concern, you should try competing by providing the highest quality, most flexible and most advanced analytics capabilities in the market. Which data scientists worth their salt would not want to apply their skills to solving the most important political challenge for a generation? This is an attractive proposition!

An open platform is ideal. Here’s why:

  1. Freedom: it will allow your data scientists to run programmes that are written in Java, Python, R, SAS and any other analytics programmes they might use – giving them the freedom and choice they crave;
  2. Data quality control and compliance: in the way data sources are prepared, stored and used. This is particularly important for organisations such as the ONS. They are creating a much richer, nuanced picture of the UK by spreading their wings and adding new sources of data to enhance their traditional datasets;
  3. Data flexibility: it will be able to ingest wholly new types of data – such as voice, social media, perhaps even video;
  4. Collaboration: you want an open platform that allows data scientists to work with colleagues to uncover insights that help to improve the services offered as well as to better understand citizens.

Having the best analytical capabilities to allow data scientists to work the way they want and to quality methodologies will help you attract the top talent. Managing these differing requirements in the right way, to help attract the best data scientists, is helping commercial organisations deliver game-changing competitive advantage. It can help the public sector make the challenging decisions that Brexit demands and measure the impacts also. Government is already making use of analytics, but now is the time to step up and put a robust, scalable structure in place. Now is the time to take these steps forward in order to de-risk Brexit and help make it a positive change for the country.

See how advanced analytics is helping the ONS to drive value from data
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