In the 15th century, reading and writing were reserved for the elite minority. That quickly changed with the invention of the printing press, and the masses started picking up literacy skills. “That, in turn has resulted in amazing prosperity globally,” notes Julian Quinn, Senior Vice President of Asia Pacific and Japan at Alteryx.

Everybody needs to be data literate in today’s world, especially public servants, he believes. Data holds plenty of important insights to help them make effective decisions for the nation. “It’s a move away from being intuitive into data driven,” he says.

Quinn shares the potential that data has unlocked for governments, and how nations can build a data-ready public service.

Data-powered smart nation

Data forms the core of any smart city. From logistics and urban design, to healthcare and border controls, data opens up many opportunities for better public services.

Saudi Arabia, for instance, uses analytics to provide subsidies to unemployed citizens more efficiently. The Human Resource Development Fund has to process millions of data points every month to find individuals who are eligible for help. It’s a tedious process, as information is scattered across systems.

The agency switched to Alteryx’s Analytic Process Automation platform in 2020, cutting a ten-day process to less than five hours. The team can now automatically assess a citizen’s eligibility and disburse funds with the platform.

These automatic processes can be set up quickly without any coding knowledge, Quinn says. This makes data tools more accessible, as public officials don’t need advanced knowledge to use them.

Alteryx is also working to equip the workforce with data skills. Its Advancing Data & Analytics Potential Together (ADAPT) programme offers free data courses for new graduates and data workers who had been laid off in the pandemic.

The programme offers online courses and certificates to improve employability. Users of any proficiency level can join the programme to deepen their knowledge. Over 4000 individuals have signed up to be part of this programme in Asia alone, Quinn shares.

A gap in data skills

Such initiatives will be crucial as the data skills gap continues to widen across the world. According to the World Economic Forum, “there’s a clear indication that there aren’t sufficient data scientists to meet the demand globally,” Quinn notes.

This gap will only increase as digitalisation progresses and new jobs emerge. There are 97 million new roles emerging, all of which need deep knowledge on algorithms and data, he says.

Singapore recognises the importance of this. It will invest in preparing citizens for changing demands in the workforce.

Deputy Prime Minister Heng Swee Keat announced in the 2021 Budget statement that mid-career workers in their 40s and 50s will receive an additional $500 in SkillsFuture Credit. They can use this to learn new skills and take on career transition programmes, The Straits Times reported.

What governments need

As individual employees continue to upskill, what can governments do to make the most of their data?

First, they need to have a trusted centre for all government data, Quinn says. This should be accessible to all agencies, while ensuring access rights and security are properly implemented. Having a centralised system would significantly streamline the process of working with data.

Next, the data needs to be clean and reliable. This will enable public servants to make decisions based on accurate, updated findings.

Finally, leaders need to prioritise improving employees’ data knowledge. Officials need to be able to read and argue with data in context and understand how to apply insights across use cases. Alteryx’s ADAPT programme could supplement these skills.

The world benefitted immensely when reading and writing became common skills. Just imagine a world in which public servants are empowered to use analytics in every part of their work!