NSW prepares data-focused innovation policy for May

The New South Wales government will lay its innovation policy out in May, with the focus to be on leveraging data sets to cut state costs.

The New South Wales government has pencilled in May as the release date for the state's first innovation policy.

Speaking at Gartner's Business Intelligence, Analytics, and Information Management Summit in Sydney on Monday, Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello said the policy will have a key focus on data analytics and how to utilise it to cut state costs.

"One of the things we're doing is around commercialisation -- how we can invest in the NSW economy in the data age and a lot of that will be around what powerful formulas we have that can include social outcomes, where governments are spending more than they need to," he said.

While tight-lipped on the content of the agenda, Dominello did discuss the role of the newly opened Data Analytics Centre.

"NSW is a leader in this field and I am very passionate about this," he said.

"Governments that don't have data, governments that don't have information, make decisions in the dark and that's not good for any of us."

Dominello said the creation of the data analytics centre required collaboration across all of the agencies of government. Currently, the state has 160 different agencies including education, health, and fair trading; 20-odd state-owned corporations such as electricity and water; and 152 local councils.

"Each and every one of these structures is collecting data, but do you think they share the data? There's a culture inside government -- I imagine it's in the corporate world as well -- that we want to keep the data really close because once you share data you open yourself up to transparency and accountability, and that's brave," Dominello said.

"But we need to do that in order to drive better outcomes"

Dominello said in order to make the Data Analytics Centre work, he had to introduce a Bill to Parliament that required each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data.

The Data Sharing Government Sector Bill [PDF] outlines to state government agencies what and how they must share their data with Dominello's Data Analytics Centre. It gives Dominello authority to collect data within 14 days.

"If I did not push this Bill through Parliament, I can guarantee you I'd be getting the data in dribs and drabs in passages over months, if not years," he said. "I don't have a year or two years to muck around."

Eventually, Dominello said he wants to see the centre receive live-streaming data.

"The key word to get this across the line in terms of inside the government is collaboration," he said.

"This is really exciting what we're doing here in NSW, the next iteration will be when we open up more and more data sets. We've got major problems, [for example] we spend AU$19 billion a year on childhood obesity just for NSW.

"Imagine if we could get all the data from Health and everywhere else, and then started opening up that data completely anonymised, with privacy in place."

Dominello said that instead of spending AU$19 billion a year on the issue and dealing with inefficient, thick red tape, data can be analysed to find better ways to spend state money.

"It's not just commercialisation, it's a great advancement for the people of NSW, because we are using tax payer dollars in a very fine-tuned way," he said.

Dominello first announced the state's plans to create the whole-of-government Data Analytics Centre in August last year.

"Data is one of the greatest assets held by government, but when it's buried away in bureaucracy it is of little value," Dominello said at the time.

"Data analytics has been used successfully in jurisdictions like New Zealand, New York City, and the State of Michigan to improve the lives of citizens through better targeted and more coordinated government service delivery."

Speaking of the initiative in November, Secretary of NSW Department of Finance, Services and Innovation Martin Hoffman said the introduction of the centre made it easier for departments and sectors to join up and share data.

According to Hoffman, the data analytics centre operates on a brokering and commissioning type model, which he said is focused on specific projects where the government believes data analytics and data sets can make a difference to policy development or program delivery.

"We'll be doing that by looking for brokering or commissioning capability from the private sector, be it small business, large business, universities, research institutes such as Data61, who are able to actually do the work," he said.

"Certainly better than government duplicating and attempting to invest in a floor of people down near Central station with large scale data analytics capabilities. It's not needed. What we need is a small group of smart people who will broker and commission specific projects out into the community."

Dominello said the state's innovation policy will dovetail off what Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull produced at a federal level.

In December, Turnbull unveiled his AU$1.1 billion National Innovation and Science Agenda that was centred on what he called the ideas boom, saying that unlike the mining boom, the ideas boom is one that can continue forever and is limited only by our imagination.

The Australia-wide agenda covers over 20 different measures focusing on four key areas: Culture and capital to help businesses embrace risk and incentivise early stage startup investment; collaboration to increase engagement between businesses, universities, and the research sector; talent and skills to train students for the jobs of the future and attract innovative talent from abroad; and for the government to lead by example by investing in, and using technology and data to deliver better quality services.

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