We have all seen during the pandemic the fleet of foot responses from universities and public sector organisations to take and join each others’ data. Digital technologies, in particular mobile and biometric applications, were adopted in innovative ways to improve the effectiveness of front-line responses to COVID-19.
Many of these responses were tactical to ensure that essential services were delivered quickly. Such ‘on the fly’ responses to the crisis took the view at best that the risks associated with ‘quick and dirty’ information governance were outweighed by the immediate risk to human life. At worst, they were preceded with without an understanding of the data governance implications.
Now that we have time to take stock, it is an opportune moment to review how we use data within our institutions.
The risks of course remain even as business returns to a more normal way of working. One of the most troubling stories about poor data handling by a university last year was that of a student who tragically committed suicide shortly after being told, erroneously, that she had failed their exams and could not progress to the following year of her degree. Her mother said in the media that she felt it was “plain and simple” that her daughter’s actions that day were a “direct result” of receiving the email.
Another notable case last year was where a student hacked through a university’s security systems to gain access to exam papers and coursework which he sold to other students for a profit of £20,000. A police raid seized £17,000 in cash, and computer equipment which was found to have downloaded significant amounts of confidential material belonging to the university. The disruption to the academic governance of the university was considerable.
The Goldacre Review of Health Data Use recommended that you need to ‘build trust by taking concrete action on privacy and transparency: trust cannot be earned through communications and public engagement alone’.
Experts think that organisations spend between 10 – 30% of revenue on handling data quality issues, so the scope for improvement here is huge both in terms of efficiency and looking after our students and other customers better. With such a range of active data sources, responsibility for data management is often shared across multiple university functions without consistent data collection and handling processes.
A Data Strategy can improve efficiency, help mitigate risk and decrease costs.
John Britton is a Consulting Fellow at Halpin. Halpin can help universities to develop and improve their data strategy and governance to unlock the value of the data it holds. We can also help you to review and update your policies and practices to ensure they reflect good practice and meet the expectations of regulators and stakeholders. Contact us to find out more.