How to use external data to improve digital government

Published on August 25, 2023

A city planning department integrates transportation data from ride-sharing companies to optimise traffic flow and improve urban mobility.

A national parks authority utilises social media sentiment analysis to gauge visitor satisfaction and improve visitor experiences.

A fire department utilises historical fire incident data from insurance companies to identify high-risk areas and allocate firefighting resources more effectively.

A governmental agency folds in local university demographic data to predict individual neighbourhoods’ growth.

These are some examples of how public agencies take advantage of external data…thanks to the cost-effective access provided by data integration platforms.

Do governments really need external data to serve their citizens?

Just about every agency, department, or business unit lacks some of the data they need to answer all the questions they have.

Of course, public agencies already possess substantial databases (tax collection, public health, law enforcement, etc.), but despite these existing resources, they often face limitations in answering all the questions they have.

External data sources provide valuable context, comparative benchmarks, and real-time information that enhance the accuracy and relevance of the analysis.

They offer a broader perspective on trends, patterns, and correlations, enabling agencies to uncover insights that might otherwise remain hidden.

Here’s how external data makes for better governments

Unbiased perspective

External data can offer a fresh and unbiased perspective. Internal datasets (although VERY valuable) may be limited by inherent biases or assumptions.

Incorporating external data introduces diverse viewpoints, helping to validate findings, challenge preconceptions, and ensure a more holistic understanding of complex issues.


While the integration of external data presents challenges in terms of complexity, cost, and data management, the emergence of cloud tools and data integration platforms has significantly eased these barriers.

These technologies offer efficient and cost-effective means to access, analyse, and integrate diverse data sources.

By leveraging cloud infrastructure and advanced analytics capabilities, public agencies can effectively harness the power of external data without overwhelming their existing resources.


External demographic data plays a crucial role in addressing disparities and promoting equity in public services.

By analysing data from various sources such as local universities, research institutions, and community organisations, agencies can gain deeper insights into the socioeconomic and cultural factors influencing different populations.

This information helps identify areas where marginalised communities may lack access to essential services, such as healthcare, education, housing, or transportation.

For example… by identifying areas with limited access to affordable housing or quality education, agencies can allocate resources strategically and implement initiatives to bridge those gaps.

Advanced reporting

Collaborating with external partners, such as data analytics firms, academic institutions, or consulting agencies, can complement the skills and resources available within government agencies.

These partnerships can provide access to specialised expertise, cutting-edge technologies, and best practices in data analysis and visualisation.

Working together (government agencies and external partners) can co-create solutions that leverage advanced reporting and analytics to address complex challenges.

Fast analysis

Compliance is a critical consideration for agencies dealing with sensitive data.

Fortunately, a robust cloud platform can address stringent compliance requirements by offering advanced security measures, encryption protocols, and access controls.

Additionally, reputable cloud service providers often comply with industry standards and regulations…..ensuring the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of data.

Final remarks

To ensure effective third-party data integration, governmental agencies should engage with all stakeholders involved and actively solicit their input.

This collaborative approach helps to gain a comprehensive understanding of the challenges at hand, the objectives to be achieved, and the specific needs and expectations of all parties involved.

By documenting these requirements in detail, agencies can establish a solid foundation for the integration process.

Clear documentation helps to align all stakeholders, promotes transparency, and provides a reference point throughout the project lifecycle.

It enables agencies to communicate their expectations effectively, allowing technology providers and partners to deliver solutions that precisely address their unique challenges and objectives.

While technology plays a significant role in third-party data integration, it is important to recognize that it is merely a tool.

Understanding the underlying purpose of the project and defining the desired outcomes are key factors that drive success.

Technology should be seen as an enabler… supporting the agencies’ objectives… rather than dictating them.


About the Author

Mohammad J Sear is focused on bringing purpose to digital in government.

He has obtained his leadership training from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, USA and holds an MBA from the University of Leicester, UK.

After a successful 12+ years career in the UK government during the premiership of three Prime Ministers Margaret Thatcher, John Major and Tony Blair, Mohammad moved to the private sector and has now for 20+ years been advising government organizations in the UK, Middle East, Australasia and South Asia on strategic challenges and digital transformation.

He is currently working for Ernst & Young (EY) and leading the Digital Government practice efforts across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and is also a Digital Government and Innovation lecturer at the Paris School of International Affairs, Sciences Po, France.

As a thought-leader some of the articles he has authored include: “Digital is great but exclusion isn’t – make data work for driving better digital inclusion” published in Harvard Business Review, “Holistic Digital Government” published in the MIT Technology Review, “Want To Make Citizens Happy – Put Experience First” published in Forbes Middle East.

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