Dominello to hand out agency 'innovation bonus' with new finance responsibilities

New South Wales' new finance minister wants to reward government agencies with funding for data-driven initiatives.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Newly appointed New South Wales Minister for Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello has said he plans to bring his data-driven expertise to his new portfolio, rewarding government agencies with an "innovation bonus" if they move away from a silo-ridden approach to IT and service delivery.

Speaking at the Gartner 2017 APAC Data & Analytics Summit in Sydney on Monday, Dominello said he had his eye on the finance position for close to six months, and noted in particular that he wanted a seat on the Expenditure Review Committee (ERC) within NSW Cabinet.

The ERC is responsible for handing out money to state agencies and government departments, and as Dominello explained, the ERC has the ability to say yes or no to requests for funding.

"It's a really powerful thing in government," Dominello said.

The former innovation minister said he wants to link state money to data-driven initiatives, and wants to see agencies move into the 21st Century as a result, noting that this is where NSW will start to see some "profound insight".

"Inside agencies they tend to be -- they'll improve, they'll add incremental improvements -- but the really deep improvements they need to do by looking internally and then sharing that data across various silos will only generally come when you say 'Look, show me some improvements and we'll attach money to it'," Dominello explained.

The minister said he wants to reward agencies by providing an innovation bonus if they can embrace data-driven outcomes internally.

"If you love paper, do origami, but if you want to work in the 21st Century, it's really got to be digital and there's really no excuse otherwise," he said.

Dominello pointed to the NSW Data Analytics Centre (DAC) that he first announced in 2015 as the benchmark for driving change within government departments.

The DAC has been promoted since day one by the minister with the catchphrase that data is one of the greatest assets held by government when it is not buried away in bureaucracy.

Since then, Dominello has introduced a Bill that requires each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data within 14 days; appointed an advisory board charged with overseeing how the state government uses that data; and announced the addition of a chief information and digital officer to drive the government's digital agenda.

Ian Oppermann was also appointed as CEO and chief data scientist of the DAC in September 2015, where he joined after a tenure with the CSIRO as an entrepreneur in residence.

With Dominello touting the DAC as a world leader in the application of whole-of-government data analytics and insights right from the beginning, the minister said he wants the federal government to take a leaf out of his book.

In August, the NSW government launched Fuel Check, a smartphone app that provides citizens with real-time updates on petrol prices across the state.

Fuel Check relies on petrol stations in the state sending their pricing schedule directly through to the government, and comes with parliamentary backing to ensure the information is sent through in real-time.

On Monday, Dominello called Fuel Check his greatest achievement during his tenure at the state government.

"Already, the Northern Territory [government] is in discussions with us regarding Fuel Check and quite frankly, that could go national today," he said. "I personally think something like that should be national, but sometimes the feds move at a very different pace."

Dominello wants to see the federal government pick up the initiative one day, as he thinks it is something that should be Australia-wide.

"Wherever there is information-based systems, the feds should look at this," he added. "Once you open up data to the private sector, to the consumer, you empower both."

By mid-2017, Dominello is expecting to launch a "really big program" where open data is concerned, currently working on the initiative behind the scenes.

"I want it to be the best, the boldest, and the brassiest that we've got in the country because I really believe in the power of open data," he said. "It will be like the TripAdvisor for open data in NSW."

Speaking with ZDNet in August, Dominello discussed a data-driven initiative he was taking on in a bid to tackle slumlords taking advantage of international students who are often unsure of their rights.

The initiative bounces off another DAC project the state government is undertaking near Randwick, southeast of Sydney, where the minister wants to determine who lives where and with whom, by feeding in data such as utility connections and disconnections, and rental bonds. Dominello has said he wants the Big Brother-like project to get down to an update interval of 30 minutes.

Dominello assumed his new role last month, following the departure of NSW Premier Mike Baird.

As a result of Baird's departure, the NSW Ministry was reshuffled, with former Treasurer and Deputy Premier Gladys Berejiklian scooping the state's top spot. Previous Minister for Finance, Services and Property Dominic Perrottet is now the state's treasurer, while Minister for Small Business, Minister for Skills, and Minister for Regional NSW John Barilaro has added deputy premier to his list of duties.

Having worked closely with Perrottet previously, Dominello stepped seamlessly into the role and reiterated his intentions to have data drive everything he does with his new responsibilities.

"I see any data point as an opportunity," Dominello said on Monday.

"Whatever you can measure, you can capture because none of us know what we could use in that data.

"Don't worry your pretty little heads about what we're going to use it for, just get it."

The minister touched on the data lake the NSW government is currently building, which he expects will be a data reservoir for not just Finance, but other departments and clusters as well.

"Whether it's petrol prices coming in, or green slip claim forms coming in, whatever it is, it's all coming into a lake -- this beautiful, rich lake -- it sounds like I'm building a big wall, but I'm not, I'm building a lake," the minister said in jest.

"It is actually going to be so, so exciting and we're at the beginning stages of that now. And we are way ahead of every other state and territory in the country -- way ahead -- and I still think we can go much, much faster."

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