Building blocks for the Smarter State

Mar 3, 2020 | Opinion

The UK can be a global leader in building the Smarter State.  But what does this actually mean?  And how can we help to realise this potential … and avoid missing opportunities?

Emerging technology is already bringing some amazing developments through IoT sensors, AI, data, etc.  You have probably imagined what is possible in the future and you may be expectant for new innovations that are yet to be.  As the GovTech market continues to grow, the optimist will anticipate the UK connecting citizens to information, empowering them to make choices for their families in network-enabled communities and cities.

1.  ‘Building …’

So what do we actually need to build?  What are the raw materials?  More IoT sensor installations across our cities?  Better algorithms, better tech?  Yes … but there is a growing recognition that nothing can be done without better data, specifically … clean, open and ethical data. We must be intentional about building Data As Infrastructure, much like we would create water mains, broadband networks and highways.  The infrastructure needed to create, collect and maintain ‘trustworthy data’ is often underestimated – but it’s fundamental to the Smarter State.  We can’t just expect ‘someone else’ to build it. And there are a range of catalysts needed too – Government investment, legislation, governance, research, cross-sector development – without these we risk someone else having ownership of both the infrastructure and data, something that will inevitably stifle openness, innovation and outcomes.

“For long-term benefits to be truly realised, a ‘Smarter’ State should be robust enough to weather the inevitable changes in governments.”

2.  ‘… the Smarter …’

So what of this word ‘Smarter’ – what does it mean?  There are already some excellent resources about this, from people better qualified than I; not least of which is ’5 ways to make our cities smarter’, a superb blog post by Anil Menon (Smart+Connected Communities, Cisco).  In his accessible article, he defines five ‘smarter’ areas as:

  • Global outlook and political will;
  • Smart standards;
  • Smart regulations;
  • Public-private partnerships;
  • Local innovation.

Whilst not an exhaustive list, addressing these will meet existing challenges, whilst exposing further opportunities to significantly accelerate the UK as a Smarter State.

3.  ‘… State’

And what do we mean by the word ‘State’?  Wikipedia highlights that a State is ‘served by a continuous succession of different governments.’

For long-term benefits to be truly realised, a ‘Smarter’ State should be robust enough to weather the inevitable changes in governments.  This includes the need for continuity of sustainable funding, new innovative business models, and separation of data access from the bias of advertising revenue.  Again, these are all areas where government and others must be intentional – left to chance, rewards will be short and shallow.

Summary – Our personal challenge

Are we serious about working together to build a Smarter State?  Then we must each identify the challenge(s) … and take action!  Whether in the private, public, voluntary or fourth sector, we should work in concert – individually, corporately and collaboratively – to realise this potential and deliver benefits to all. Here are three actions to consider …
  1. Start (or respond to) a conversation. Open channels with innovative SMEs, get involved in Twitter threads, approach non-incumbent suppliers who suggest novel solutions – this needs to happen much more than now.
  2. Invest in ‘Data As Infrastructure’. Relying on technological osmosis will not deliver.  Be intentional about funding, commissioning and innovative data opportunities.  This is the lifeblood of the Smarter State.
  3. Make tech solutions … open, accessible, interoperable, portable, trustworthy and accountable. Ask how you can improve to address unhelpful boundaries, siloes, bias, closed data, discrimination and data quality.  Better data leads to better information, systems and outcomes for everyone.
Whatever your Smart ‘recipe’, let’s work together to build the Smarter State – to empower citizens to self-serve, make informed choices and improve their daily lives, outcomes and futures. This is truly building the Smarter State.
Author: Gary Todd

Author: Gary Todd

Founder and CEO, Famiio. With a wealth of experience within the public sector, Gary previously worked with the Department for Education on national data projects and is a former frontline local authority manager.

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