A Secure Data Strategy

The first step to hurdling disparate data barriers in government


In February 2016, the UK’s Science and Technology Committee published an extensive report into the potential opportunity which big data presents to the UK economy. The report found that a staggering 58,000 jobs could be created and £216bn contributed to the economy (2.3% of GDP) over a five-year period.

The report continues that many organizations are only scratching the surface of what could be achieved, coining the phrase ‘data-phobe businesses’. Companies are analyzing just 12% of their data, and it’s not just the private sector that is failing to realize the opportunity, so too is the public sector. The committee outlines the ways in which government is also failing to maximize the big data opportunity and lead by example.

The benefits to government departments of ‘opening up’ its data siloes and implementing strategies for harnessing big data are well understood. When implemented as part of a forward-thinking digital strategy, departments can expect to see reduced costs, greater efficiencies, more innovative services and better served and engaged citizens.

But the reality of unpicking decades of legacy technology and proprietary systems is no easy feat. Perhaps most concerning of all for government departmental CIOs, CISOs, and chief data officers, is the question of data security. How can we even consider innovating with citizen data, and implementing effective digital strategies, if we can’t be certain that data is secure?

A perfect storm for disparate data distress

Government IT departments have seen a number of factors impact their IT organization. Over time, this has led to the current ‘disparate data distress’ situation in which many organizations now find themselves.

The gradual introduction of cloud-based services has seen data move off premise into more cost effective places, with hybrid cloud becoming more acceptable in government. We have seen an increase in the ability to collect data, pro-actively and passively leading to a rapid accumulation of data. Simultaneously, the cost of storage and cost of computing power has dramatically reduced feeding this data expansion. Finally, legal requirements – such as the need to hold data for 7 years – has placed legislative burdens on IT departments to hoard information.

Realizing the potential of an integrated digital strategy has been a public sector priority for over a decade. But often this transition has occurred in step changes and reactively, not as a planned holistic strategy.

We, therefore, have a situation where legacy systems – incorporating secure data sets in proprietary systems, in proprietary technologies, in siloed departments – battle with the desire for integrated, data-driven services.

Data strategy starts with security

IT leaders need to consider how they are going to manage three key areas:

  • How can you collect, interpret, and analyze data as it exponentially increases
  • Where should you store data
  • How do you make sure data is secure at all times

The third of these challenges is the most important to get right and to ensure that any digital data strategy is robust and future-proofed. Micro-segmentation is increasingly being seen as a solution to these collective challenges.

Through micro segmentation, IT departments can quickly and easily divide physical networks into thousands of logical micro segments strengthening security in private and public clouds and deflecting threats.

This approach gives control back to the network, without having to deal with the firewall rules, outdated applications and legacy issues, all the while embracing remote users and cloud-based services – crucial in the public sector.

With new containment strategies, organisations will have the ability to work at the Internet Protocol (IP) packet level, which makes it easier to apply anywhere a company’s data goes - from data centres to public clouds, to employees on the move. Micro-segmentation is driven by existing identity management systems, so it is simple to establish communities of interest for authorised users across all of these technologies.

Better data strategy = better citizen services

Deploying a trusted security strategy around data gives IT leaders the freedom to share and explore data in new and creative ways. It also puts them in the strongest position possible when it comes to managing future security threats and breaches.

Government departments can realise the benefits of unleashing data in a myriad of ways across citizen services. to intelligent bin collection where refuse collectors’ routes are calculated based on volumes of waste and individual household habits.

The potential scenarios are limitless and Government departments have the opportunity to show leadership and best practice – as mandated in the Science and Technology Committee’s report.

But in order to embrace the growth and opportunity of data, IT leaders need to be certain that citizens’ data is secure and protected and that they have the freedom to innovate within the safety of a secure data strategy. 

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