What does it take to be genuinely data driven?

Data and insights are undoubtedly amongst the most valuable assets public sector organisations possess. They can reshape how decisions are made, revolutionise how knowledge is managed and, ultimately, transform outcomes and change lives. But what exactly does it take to become genuinely data driven?

Data can break down barriers and increase cooperation, creating more opportunities and time spent on activities to derive deeper insights from data to make well-informed decisions. In turn, this builds fairness and consistency and leads to greater trust in data and the organisation. That’s on top of improving the customer experience with better access to data, more accurate interventions and reduced duplication of assessments and engagement.

These examples are not exhaustive – the possibilities are endless, especially when organisations become genuinely data-driven to the point where unlocking the value of data becomes second nature. While this is not easy, it is possible; at Agilisys, we have found five principles for data and insights that help our clients make better use of data.

Outcomes, outcomes, outcomes

Investing in better data is essential, but unless it’s improving outcomes for citizens through better decisions or personalised support, that investment is likely to be wasted.

We have seen organisations trying to gather any data, cleanse it and hope patterns will emerge. When they do, what happens next? The ensuing outcomes often disappoint with no plan of what to do with this information, what the end goal is or how to use it to make a difference.

If we take an outcome-focused approach, we can exploit data properly and open the door to myriad activities with real, tangible and potentially life-changing outcomes. We need to clarify what questions we want to answer and have a hypothesis for our intervention. To that end, we prepare the relevant data, cleanse it, overlay datasets, analyse them and look for patterns that will allow us to answer our questions, target our resources, and improve outcomes.

The key is to align investment in data and insight to organisation priorities, know what questions we want to answer, be purposeful, and not fall into the trap of doing data for data’s sake.


Data needs a seat at the top table

To harness its full potential and for an organisation to become intelligence-led, data needs to be treated as a strategic organisational asset – like people in HR or money in finance.

Equivalent assets have entire departments looking after them and a long-established presence at the top table (HRD, CTO, FD). It still however remains rare for a strategic leader to be responsible for the organisation’s data. Finances have board-level implications, so we expect a board-level CFO – data can have an equally powerful role, yet CIOs and CDOs often remain in middle-management.

Compelling leadership and a mandate for change are essential in changing how people work with and value data

Quick wins versus long-term gains

Do we want to focus on quick wins or long-term outcomes for our data-led initiatives? Our answer: both!

Why? Think about learning a new language. We start with essential words and phrases, and the progress is exciting! We begin to understand how the language works and choose what to develop next. However, we know that we’ll only ever be fluent when we’ve mastered the foundations. To succeed, we need to balance the excitement of quick wins with building the foundations that enable us to advance.

Data programmes are no exception. Quickly driving measurable value, for example, through insight use cases, is a prerequisite – it binds stakeholders, creates the buzz and secures investment. In parallel, though, we must understand the value in what might be considered a less glamorous side of the work, such as data cleansing, which is needed to build sustained success.

Striking the right balance can be challenging, but it will bring the whole organisation on the journey if done right.

More than just technology

Technology alone can’t solve all our data problems.

If we invest in technology, expecting it will be enough to set the organisation on the path to becoming data-driven, things will go wrong.

As we have seen several times in the public sector, the challenge is that it’s not uncommon for people to consider data an IT issue. We should not downplay the importance of technology – it’s a critical enabler that allows the analysis, storage, visualisation, and sharing of data. However, successful data transformation requires a roadmap that defines technology and the people, their culture, skillsets, ways of working, and the processes that enable the improved use of data and insights.

These are much like a jigsaw puzzle – no two pieces are the same, but all are needed to complete the picture.

Only by bringing technology, people and processes together will a modern, highly efficient genuinely data-driven organisation be created.


Data at every stage of the decision-making process

Making the right decisions is arguably at the heart of every activity we do.

We need objectivity and confidence, and for that, we need knowledge based on tangible, solid evidence.

The insights gained from data enable us to understand the context of our situation better and draw conclusions that we can turn into actions by making informed, evidence-based decisions. Without it, our decisions would be based on assumptions or gut feel, which could likely result in a failure to predict the impact and outcomes.

We need to continuously evaluate and appraise our data, the outcomes they drive, and refine the insights and actions that result. By doing so will lead to invaluable information that organisations can’t afford to miss.

Turning theory into practice

In our experience, following these five principles will go a long way to successfully transforming an organisation into one that’s genuinely data-driven. We also know from our work delivering successful data projects across the public sector that what sounds easy in an article can be difficult in practice. So, if you want to hear more about the lessons we have learned or want help embarking on your data journey, get in touch – we would love to help!


PSE April/ May 2024

Alarming decline in UK costal water quality

Dive into our latest edition for April/May 2024!


More articles...

View all
Online Conference


2024 Online Conferences

In partnership with our community of public sector leaders responsible for procurement and strategy across local authorities and the wider public sector, we’ve devised a collaborative calendar of conferences and events for leaders of industry to listen, learn and collaborate through engaging and immersive conversation.

All our conferences are CPD accredited, which means you can gain points to advance your career by attending our online conferences. Also, the contents are available on demand so you can re-watch at your convenience.

Public Sector Executive Podcast

Ep. 53 Compassion and Co-operation - Dr Nik Johnson

For the 53rd episode of the Public Sector Executive Podcast, Mayor of Cambridgeshire and Peterborough, Dr Nik Johnson, spoke to host Dan Benn about some of the most important issues facing his region, as well as what drives him as a leader.