​NSW government turns to Microsoft for procurement monitoring

The NSW Data Analytics Centre is using Azure to build a machine learning neural network to categorise how the state is spending its AU$30 billion procurement kitty.

The New South Wales government has announced signing Microsoft to help it commercialise its data science capabilities, initially focusing on the state's AU$30 billion procurement spend.

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The NSW Data Analytics Centre (DAC), stood up in August 2015, will work with the local arm of Microsoft to offer data-related products both inside and outside of government, and "turbo-charge" the government's digital and data agenda.

Under the arrangement, DAC data scientists are using Microsoft Azure and a range of Azure cognitive services to build a machine learning neural network to categorise how the NSW government's AU$30 billion annual procurement budget is allocated each year.

"The NSW Data Analytics Centre is an employer of some of the best data scientists who are spearheading data analytics inside of government," NSW Minister of Finance, Services and Property Victor Dominello said.

"Our partnership with Microsoft will allow the NSW DAC to go a step further, servicing not just NSW government agencies, but governments and corporates around the world. The DAC will leverage Microsoft's deep engineering expertise with the goal of commercialising within a year."

When announcing the DAC, Dominello, as the state's Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, said data is one of the greatest assets held by government, but when it is buried away in bureaucracy, it is of little value.

The proof of concept being developed by the DAC and Microsoft specifically focuses on the eight million transactions which make up NSW's annual procurement budget.

According to Dr Ian Oppermann, NSW's chief data scientist and DAC CEO, by taking a more data-driven approach, the government expects clarity and access to insights that can help optimise decision-making and ultimately policy.

The government said it is essentially seeking to validate what it is spending money on, and then confirm whether it is getting value for money.

"In the case of this particular project what we're looking at is using some very sophisticated artificial intelligence techniques to analyse and categorise New South Wales' procurement spend with the big picture goal of helping the people who are working to reform procurement," Oppermann said.

Oppermann said that using the cloud has meant a project that might traditionally have taken three years to bring to fruition was up and running in less than three months.

"The learning capacity of the system is impressive," Oppermann explained. "It's been training itself over the last weeks and we have already seen improvements in its accuracy."

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