How public sector organisations connect people with data in the United Kingdom

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We have all had to embrace change as a result of the pandemic, be smarter about our online activities due to increased cyber crime, and stay informed geo-politically in light of recent events in Ukraine. We are not, however, on the front lines like public sector leaders and teams. Many of us do not realise just how quickly the public sector needs to move to respond to factors like these in order to sustain our way of life in a changing world. And the key to public sector agility? Connecting people with data.

This theme was made clear at a recent ElasticON Public Sector event in London, where UK public sector leaders, including Gav Smith, Director General for Technology & SRO for National Security Data, GCHQ, shared how their organisations have “become a product of their data, and a product of their people.” Highlights from each insightful government, education, and Elastic presentation are captured here.

[Related article: Why it’s time for more CISOs to embrace DevSecOps]

Show swagger for a seat at the table

In the session “Diversity, equity, and inclusion - why it matters,” a panel composed of Lisa Jones-Huff, Elastic’s Senior Director of Solutions Architecture; Mattie Yeta, CGI Chief Sustainability Officer; Matthew Mallett, UK Space Agency Chief Digital Information Officer; Donna Lyndsay, Ordnance Survey Innovation & Sustainability Proposition Leader; and moderated by Kim Heath, Elastic’s Vice President of Solutions Architecture, discussed how it is difficult for leaders to understand customers — in this case, citizens — if there is not a diverse team challenging the leader’s viewpoint.

Thus, it’s important that leaders engage their full team and even provide “safe to fail” environments. In the competitive field of cybersecurity, Jones-Huff encourages new entrants, especially women, to show swagger while building relationships and rapport with others. If there is a question posed that one cannot answer, find the answer and close the loop with the team. The act of doing so builds confidence, and can open up a seat at the table.

Data at scale outmaneuvers an attacker’s dwell time

In his keynote presentation “Lead with data, solve with search,” Ash Kulkarni, Elastic’s CEO, discussed exponential data growth and how this relates to security fundamentally being a data problem. As advanced persistent threats (APTs) look to proliferate targets laterally after dwelling in an environment for months at a time, it is no longer possible to know how widespread a vulnerability is by looking at just one year’s worth of data. It’s critical that organisations are able to store multiple years’ worth data at scale, run complex queries on that data, and mitigate vulnerabilities quickly by taking action on endpoints. 

Kulkarni emphasised that data has gravity and moving it around is expensive. With Elastic’s search-powered security solutions deployable on cloud, organisations can search data at scale to detect and neutralise dwelling threats without breaking the bank. 

Happy developers make for better organisations

In his prepared remarks, Smith discussed two recent drivers of change for GCHQ. The first, COVID, helped his organisation “find new muscles” by giving amazing people the right environment to thrive. It transformed the way teams work by integrating development pipelines in classified capabilities.

Smith also briefly discussed the invasion of Ukraine and how the prominence of the information front and the increased use of cyber in conflict is changing the information space at an unprecedented pace. This, combined with the COVID crisis, has shown that GCHQ’s vital contribution is the product of its transformation, its partnerships, and of putting the organisation’s values at the heart of those.

Query data where it lives

In his presentation highlighting Elastic platform updates, Matthew Adams, Elastic Principal Solutions Architect, discussed known silos within organisations and even within teams. However, the more you drill into these silos the more you find even more fractals. While the ambition is there to “break down” silos, it can be hard to do. That’s where Elastic comes in to play:

  • Leave data where it is
  • Index the data
  • Change data to a usable format with a common schema
  • Run one analytics query on the normalised data where it lives
  • Use cross-cluster search to federate queries across clusters
  • Surface data into modern APIs to initiate secure data sharing 

Adams also reviewed new Elastic product features including vector tiles, natural language processing, and geo hex tile aggregations.

Data obligations can be met with a single stack

In their ElasticON sponsor presentation, Phill Newbury, CGI Vice President Consulting Services, and Adam Burr, CGI Director Consulting Expert, highlighted an anonymous customer case study to illustrate their proven data management approach for government customers. 

Using Elastic, CGI helps the customer meet its data obligations of managing, acting on, and sharing data. In this approach, data is ingested into Elastic with a common schema so that metadata is captured. Kibana is then used to analyze, plan, and implement decisions based on the data. Next, decisions are tracked and updated, and “what if” scenarios are developed to propose rules for the data and for sharing it. This process provides a solid before and after state and is fully auditable.

NLP-powered search builds trust in medical environments  

In a Q&A facilitated by Heath, Dr. James Teo, King’s College Hospital’s Professor of Neurology and Director of Data Science and AI, described how his team uses Elastic’s open source technology to manage unstructured patient data captured by health professionals — professionals who are busy treating patients and are not data analysts. 

With Elastic, clinicians can then separate out health data from proprietary or personal data to analyze trends and facilitate international collaboration on treatments, driving innovation from the ground up by using open source and building community across other teams. What’s more, thanks to natural language processing (NLP) powered search on their web properties, patients can obtain diagnoses or find resources easily, which builds trust in the medical staff and hospital itself.

[Related article: 5 ways search can modernize digital experiences in public sector]

Take an ongoing “innovate now” approach

In her inspiring presentation followed by a Q&A with Heath, Dr. Catherine Greene, OBE and Associate Professor in Chromosome Dynamics at the Wellcome Centre for Human Genetics at the University of Oxford, discussed how a core team compressed eight years of work into eight months to develop the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. In doing so, they helped deliver 2 billion doses of the vaccine by November 2021 — at cost — and saved an estimated one million lives. Beyond the lessons learned from the clinical trials, the good manufacturing practice process, and mis- or disinformation about the vaccine, Green highlighted two key takeaways from the team’s life-saving work:

  • Innovate Now — because you never know what’s around the corner
  • Ask Big Questions — people are good and will step up to answer them   

No code and low code simplifies geospatial analysis

In their demonstration of Elasticsearch, Elastic Maps, and Kibana Lens, Martin Robson, Data Exploitation Lead, and Will Markham, Elastic Consulting Engineer walked through how police and other investigative services can import complex surveillance data into Elastic and build easy-to-use visualisations using no code, drag-and-drop functionality, and low-code data enrichment options. These visualisations provide the “what, where, and when” that investigators need in order to conduct geospatial analysis and make contextualised decisions.   

[Related article: How Elastic Maps can be used to track the devastating eruption of a volcano, or any natural event]

Faster insight puts cyber criminals out of business

In his overview of the National Cyber Security Centre’s “Defend as One” approach, Peter W., NCSC CTO for Government, described how his organisation’s aim is to make the UK the safest place to live and work online — but also to make it simpler to do so. 

Since launching in 2016, NCSC has learned various lessons, including, “don’t assume, measure.” For example, when fake COVID passports were used as a phishing lure online, NCSC not only sought to take these pages down but also measured the speed at which they could take them down, as this greatly reduces the criminals’ return on investment for their malicious activity. When bad guys don’t get to profit, they likely move on.

Transformation begins by “just doing today”

In his closing presentation, Matthew “Ollie” Ollerton, Former UK Special Forces Officer and Directing Staff, provided a number of mental and physical tools to improve the way we think, act, and ultimately perform. In describing his life after military service, Ollerton acknowledged his battle with alcohol addiction and the need to rebuild his life. When he went through this, rather than trying to fix everything at once, he told himself to “just do today.” Over time, he was able to create his own footprint and build a career in helping others. Today, he is a motivational speaker, team training leader, and author of the books Break-Point and Battle Ready.

Want to attend the next ElasticON Public Sector? 

We were thrilled to host ElasticON Public Sector in person once again. Interested in attending the next one in the EMEA region, or other Elastic events? Get in touch at ukgov@elastic.co or elastic.co/industries/public-sector/united-kingdom.

If you’d like to learn more about what our public sector customers are doing with Elastic, read on about how Elastic-powered insight led to $2 million in savings.

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