I’ve been appointed as Chief Data Officer for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) since March 2017. Without a doubt, data and analytics are crucial to DWP’s ability to understand the issues that the UK is currently facing, to make sure that we deliver an appropriate and effective response. The work we do helps the most vulnerable in our society and actively contributes towards rebuilding the labour market.
We’ve been working on new data reference architecture, using the principles of data mesh, to support the re-architecting of DWP, from various segregated lines of business onto a single logical application reference architecture. This will support improved analytics, segmentation and service delivery personalisation, as well as enhanced fraud and error detection.
Rapid response to COVID-19
During the first lockdown, there was a temporary reduction in DWP capacity as many colleagues were shielding, self-isolating or didn’t yet have the equipment to work from home. This meant we needed to develop new people and workplace analytics overnight in order to understand what was happening to the demand on DWP services and the supply. We had to scale prototype cloud analytics workspaces and bring legacy data we had never previously used into modern, virtualised environments. This push has enabled us to get to the most accurate and dynamic productivity analytics that we’ve ever had.
This year has really demonstrated the power that small teams of data and analytics professionals can have in delivering urgent and, in some cases, lifesaving support to our fellow citizens.
A real sense of purpose
My proudest achievement continues to be my work at DWP, especially over the past year. We’ve had to work extremely hard as part of a much wider team to support people during this complex and stressful period in their lives. This gives the whole team a huge sense of purpose, knowing that the right support is delivered to the right people, at the right time.
Working with other government departments and partners, we use huge datasets to better understand the citizens that need our services. This enables us to tailor our support more appropriately to individual needs, more efficiently and effectively.
My advice about working in data
This industry is all about people, so make the time to understand the people you’re trying to help. The best use of data is when those working with it really understand the situation of the service user and their needs. This is something that I was fortunate to learn through operational analysis work in my early career, but it’s as true now as it was then. I’ve made the effort to work in jobcentres and our service centres and go out with our teams who visit claimants in their homes so that we maintain proximity to where the impact is delivered.
Secondly, don’t forget the basics. The ability to do creative things with good data relies on solid engineering, good data management and exceptional security. If you get the foundations right, then you can have a a career that will change people’s lives for the better.
Andrew Bolton, Head of Practice
I’m Andrew Bolton and I’m Head of the Data Practice at DWP Digital. I have a team of 550 data engineers, data managers, data scientists, statisticians and software developers and this number is continually growing.
We aim to deliver data-driven intelligence, products and services that enhance the services we and improve outcomes for citizens and employees. We’re responsible for one of the largest data warehouses in Europe and for ensuring that we can support over 20 million UK citizens in times of need.
Why you should pursue a digital career with us
Our mission is unique and touches practically every citizen in the UK at some point in their lives. Knowing that members of your family or your friends are using our services at stressful times in their lives makes this personal and important. We actively look for people who want to make an impact on society and want to make a difference in people’s lives.
The technical challenge in DWP is huge. You’ll get the opportunity to work on some of the largest and most sensitive datasets in the UK. We are using the most modern tools, techniques and architectures. This level of intellectual challenge is hard to find elsewhere.
We invest in our people. We have a wealth of knowledge about citizen data and the wider social welfare system in the UK and recognise we need to invest in that talent to grow our capabilities. As a result, we have invested heavily in a practice model and will be formalising quarterly learning spikes this year.
We want to support people at the early stages of their careers. We’re creating new talent pipelines by reaching out to the university clusters in the North West, Yorkshire and the North East. We’re also working with centres of excellence such as the National Innovation Centre for Data to support PhD and MSc candidates and working with schools and colleges on programmes such as Girls in STEM and Digital Apprenticeships.
We’re proud of what we do. We enjoy showcasing our talents through open events like Hack the North and DataJamNE and this creates a real excitement about what DWP Digital is trying to do for local communities and wider society in the UK.
Looking forward to 2021
This is a hugely exciting and energising year ahead. Our primary focus will be on the labour market, by supporting the plan for jobs across the UK. This will mean improved place-based analytics and local labour market intelligence to support jobseekers, employers and local economies to build back as quickly as possible.