JULY 15 2015

Richard Kemp’s blog: ‘Should HMG take a market rent from its data estate?’ Published in Business Value Exchange Magazine, Part Two, July 2015

Part 2: Could the Government commercialise its databank to raise funds if all competing interests were aligned? Richard Kemp muses over the potential.

Legal rights in data provide the framework and the mechanism to mediate all the competing interests about data use. One of the most important areas of conflict is between individual rights to privacy and the commercial value of the databases concerned to service providers to the public sector, increasingly dominated by IT businesses with deep pockets.

IT companies can now develop sophisticated predictive products and services using large aggregated, anonymised public databases. In healthcare, where NHS databases of clinical outcomes can improve preventive medicine and patient care, the combination of recent breakthroughs in cancer treatment drugs and national oncology databases is a case in point. The NHS databases are of enormous value to the commercial sector, who will in turn charge the NHS a commercial rate for the drugs, treatments, medicines and services they will develop as a result.

Mr Maude is a noted advocate of open government. In a recent speech in Paris at the end of April he outlined five principles for public sector reform, all of which apply to HMG’s data estate: tight central control of IT, property and procurement as common activities; looser operational control; fostering an innovative culture; ‘digital by default’; and ‘being transparent and publishing open data’.

Talking about accountability and transparency, he said that ‘ultimately, public data belongs to the citizen, not the state’. I’m not sure that’s right – the data that the State holds about me as an identifiable individual, sure; but that data as collated, structured and searchable and as the product of all those public sector IT projects? I have an interest, protected by law, that the information that relates to me is not misused. Yet, as a taxpayer, when those vast datasets are aggregated, anonymised and packaged up, I want to make sure that HMG isn’t missing a trick in licensing them on commercial terms to the IT and healthcare providers who will use them to develop the products and services that enhance our quality of life and that they will then sell back to us on equally commercial terms.

At a time of pressure on public finances, and when everyone – citizens and business – stands to benefit from services Big Data makes possible, shouldn’t HMG be developing a comprehensive government-wide approach to commercial licensing of its data estate that balances all the competing interests?

Read the full article in Business Value Exchange Magazine here



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