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How the right foundations can help the UK build a vibrant data economy

Covid-19 has caused so much disruption and completely changed the way we live, work and play. While in many ways it has pressed pause on our lives, in other ways the pandemic has initiated G-force inducing acceleration.

Nowhere is this more evident than in our appreciation of the value of data. Data has shaped our response to this crisis at a global, national and enterprise level. It has identified where to send medical supplies and channel financial support to people and businesses. It has allowed food banks to connect with vulnerable families in need of supplies, and councils to forecast where to deploy resources for new outbreaks.

And these are just a handful of examples where data has been at the forefront of our fight back against Covid-19. Without a doubt, the pandemic has expanded our horizons in how we apply data – and demonstrated its huge value in combatting society's biggest problems.

On top of this, the pandemic has accelerated the digitalisation of our economy and our transition towards a digital marketplace. At the height of the UK pandemic in April, close to half of the employed population worked from home. Almost every single Briton – 96 per cent – ordered a parcel online.  

Businesses had to adapt. Fast. With continuity dependent on their ability to operate and transact virtually, digital transformation was expedited. Advancements previously scheduled to take years were condensed into a few months.

But the business response to the pandemic cannot end here. While there is a broader sense that the rollout of a vaccine will conclude this chapter – for businesses, it’s only the beginning.

Alongside all the disruption caused by the global pandemic, 2021 will also see Britain emerge from the Brexit transition period into a new environment outside the European Union. This new reality will present many challenges and opportunities, as the nation comes to terms with its new circumstances.

Chief among these is to establish the UK as a world-leading data economy, a vision which has been set out clearly by the government via the launch of the UK National Data Strategy - a mechanism to stimulate economic innovation and growth.

For this vision to materialise, businesses and other organisations will need to get a robust digital infrastructure in place. To my mind, there are four key areas that data leaders, and more broadly businesses, should focus on in 2021 to create a pathway to success. These are:

  1. Consistent data standards
  2. Developing better data skills.
  3. Improving the availability of data.
  4. Demonstrating responsible data use.

At a time of great uncertainty, what is clear is that we are not going back to the way we were all doing business before. If businesses are to survive the immediate fallout from the pandemic and thrive into the future, they have to understand their new, post-Covid landscape.

Understanding and driving value from data will be paramount. It will enable businesses to identify and comprehend shifts in customer behaviour, and better understand the rapidly evolving marketplace in which they operate.

However, accessing these benefits will demand close collaboration between government, industry and regulators. These parties will need to work together to develop a data regulation framework that encourages innovation and data sharing, while building people’s trust that their data is being used responsibly. If we can lay the right foundations, embrace the new standards and focus on what's right for customers, we will find many chances to prosper in this new data driven world.

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