Governments are realising the potential of big data: Dominello

When it comes to big data, NSW Innovation Minister Victor Dominello believes it is one of the greatest assets held by government, but is of little value when it's buried away in bureaucracy.
Written by Asha Barbaschow, Contributor

Governments are starting to realise that big data is an important asset, according to New South Wales Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation Victor Dominello, but that inaccessible data buried in bureaucracy is of little value, as it cannot be fully utilised to inform government policy.

The state minister used his time at the CeBIT Australia 2016 Conference to paint a positive future for public data, saying that governments are now realising that its value should be considered in the same way as that of physical assets.

He said unlocking government data could add $3 trillion in value to the global economy.

"Government spending in Australia contributes about a quarter of the nation's gross domestic product. As a state government, we have more than 168 agencies and departments, administer over 750 different types of licences, and have an annual budget of AU$70 billion, which is spent across health, education, roads and transport, public housing, and corrective services, just to name a few," Dominello said on Monday.

"It is fair to say that we generate a truckload of data."

Citing research from IBM, Dominello said that 90 percent of the world's data has been created in the past two years; that every day, the world generates 2.5 quintillion bytes of data; and that the individual digital footprints of citizens around the world is growing exponentially, thanks to the likes of social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.

"I think it's also fair to say that like most governments, we've been behind the eight-ball when it comes to harnessing the value of data until now," he said.

"I speak not as an expert in the field of data analytics, but as someone who understands the decision-making processes of government and appreciates the value of big data."

According to Dominello, open data is an index of democracy. He said the more willing the government is to open up data to its citizens, the stronger Australia's democracy will be.

"We're slowly moving away from the days where companies could get away with sending out telephone and electricity bills written in hieroglyphics, and you need a PhD to make any sense of them," Dominello said.

"People want access to data in its unadulterated form ... before it gets covered in political and PR spin."

Dominello said that one of his proudest achievements since taking on the innovation portfolio was the creation of the whole-of-government Data Analytics Centre (DAC).

"Over the last eight months, the centre has been, in many ways, a startup within government," he said. "Through its actions, the DAC has changed the culture within government. We've seen a noticeable shift away from the silo mentality that previously existed."

The DAC was first announced in August last year, with Dominello saying previously that big data can be analysed to find better ways to spend state money, preventing billions of dollars in unnecessary spending.

Comparing the NSW centre to those around the world, Dominello said the DAC is revolutionary, as it has the legislative power behind it to demand data on social priorities from government agencies and departments, as well as local councils.

In order to make the analytics centre work, Dominello had to introduce the Data Sharing Government Sector Bill [PDF], requiring each of the agencies and state-owned amenities to give his department their data within 14 days.

Last month, Dominello unveiled the members of the advisory board that was formed to support the DAC.

Chaired by Tim Thurman, who is currently the CIO of the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX), the board will advise the government on priorities and key partnerships across industry, government, and research sectors that should be forged to ensure outcomes are delivered.

Following Malcolm Turnbull's AU$1.1 billion innovation initiative, Dominello revealed in February that he had pencilled in May as the date for unveiling the state's first innovation policy.

Although tight-lipped on the content of the agenda, Dominello did say 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.

Also speaking on Monday, NSW Premier Mike Baird said he believes the state will shape the economic future of the country, saying his government is aiming to ensure Sydney is known as the startup city of Australia.

"The finance and insurance sector has been a key performer in the economy both in Australia, but particularly in NSW, which is the home of the finance sector," he said. "NSW has been part of that overall story, and I will argue to you that [NSW] is the engine room of growth here in Australia."

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