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  • This article was updated on 22 September 2020 to show that the statistics reflect the survey responses about how businesses say that they share data, rather than the full range of operational data sharing that businesses undertake.

Responsible data sharing can unlock a range of business benefits, but although businesses share data as a matter of course – with suppliers, business partners, regulators etc – a survey shows only 27% of UK businesses say that they actively share data with other organisations or individuals

The widespread impact of Covid-19 is changing how we live and work. Businesses everywhere are facing significant disruption and are having to find new ways of working in order to navigate a new landscape.

In May, a survey by Deloitte revealed that 90% of large firms reported high uncertainty, with most forecasting a prolonged and serious downturn in business.

In an uncertain future, with the challenges posed by pandemics, climate change and economic shocks, it is more vital than ever to share access to data in order to build resilience.

Adapting in a crisis

Sharing data, building strong data ecosystems and open innovation can help organisations adapt to survive in a crisis, and can even be helpful in managing the crisis itself. For example, Google, Apple and Citymapper shared mobility reports to monitor how different coronavirus strategies limit movement in and to different places, and Microsoft opened up data about broadband connectivity in the US to identify areas where people are less likely to be able to work from home.

The Furman Review of Digital Competition recommended making markets work better by increasing access to data. To help us all adapt to the current crisis, increasing access to data – in ways that protect privacy – is likely to remain a key priority of the government’s agenda.

Appetite for data sharing is low, despite known benefits

However, our YouGov survey conducted in March with more than 2,000 decision leaders in a wide range of sectors found that, while 93% of large companies and 40% of SMEs do have a data strategy – and of course share data operationally with partners, accountants, customers etc – a mere 27% of businesses say that they actively share data they hold, despite tangible business benefits.

The survey also showed that the best equipped sectors are finance and accounting (where 83% have a data strategy), IT and telecommunications (81%) and legal (68%). The survey suggested that one of the least prepared sectors is engineering and design, where just 36% of polled businesses have a data strategy.

Data-sharing hesitancy

These low figures highlight the importance of the ODI’s previous work with Lloyd’s Register Foundation and a range of engineering and safety organisations across the UK, including the Royal Academy of Engineering, in increasing access to data to inform engineering design, monitor safety, and improve operations of key infrastructure.

The survey highlighted that the key reasons for not sharing data included being unsure about the business benefits of data sharing (19%), concerns about legal risks (39%), worries about competition or reputational risk (26%) or a lack of data governance and processes around sharing data (12%). Other barriers included poor quality or badly structured data (9%), lack of in-house technical skills or capacity (9%) and poor quality technology (9%).

Data-sharing benefits, from supply chains to exercise classes

However the benefits, according to the businesses polled, include improved collaboration with stakeholders and partners (38%), better service and product delivery (36%) and legal compliance (34%) – all results which were also demonstrated by our research.

The EU-funded open innovation accelerator, Data Pitch, clearly demonstrated how data sharing helps drive innovation and generate economic, social and environmental benefits.  The programme helped large organisations share data with innovative startups to solve a series of challenges, creating 112 jobs and generating €22.4m impact in the process.

Our research and case studies provide additional evidence of these benefits, showing how companies across all sectors can become more adaptable and unlock more value by sharing data they have collected.

Case studies also illustrate the many benefits of sharing data including: supply-chain optimisation, efficiencies and cost savings, better innovation, creating new products and services and maintaining competitiveness.

For organisations that were proactively sharing data before the Covid-19 pandemic, having a stronger data infrastructure in place has helped them more easily adapt to the changing environment.

For example, the OpenActive initiative is helping health and physical activity companies publish standardised open data about opportunities to be physically active in order to reach new audiences and improve market reach for gyms, health centres and swimming pools.

As well as helping them achieve the initial objective, the programme meant that when the sector faced the specific challenge of lockdown, companies were able to easily transition to publishing data about the many virtual events that replaced public exercise sessions.

In a crisis such as the one we are currently experiencing, data sharing can bring benefits to help mitigate impact. Transport and logistics companies, manufacturers, food producers and distributors, energy and water companies can all share information to ensure the nation’s needs are met and appropriate policies are put in place.

Forward-thinking organisations who are already sharing data will be in the best position to withstand future economic shocks, while also enabling themselves to operate with maximum efficiency and solve major sector challenges. For example, smart energy management software company PassivSystems is sharing data with Open Climate Fix to improve forecasting in solar energy generation to balance supply and demand in a more efficient, cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.

Responsible data sharing

In conclusion, businesses must find ways to share data to create value while mitigating any harmful impacts. Increasing access to data will not just help to drive innovation, but also build resilience in the face of sudden social, environmental and economic changes.

But supporting businesses to unlock the value of data requires action by a range of stakeholders. For example, our survey showed that, of businesses that use data from other organisations, 45% source this from industry groups. In turn, these groups, as well as professional bodies and regulators, must convene businesses in their sectors and encourage collaboration, and the government must put policies in place which support this.

The ODI has produced a free online toolkit for businesses to help organisations identify and develop new business opportunities by sharing their data. It includes the Data Skills Framework, which has been used by organisations such as Arup and Coop to develop their data skills programmes, the Data Ethics Canvas and a Data Ecosystem Mapping Tool.   When used well, data can benefit businesses in a variety of ways, and we are available to offer practical help and advice.

Visit our project page to find out more.