The former Premier of Tasmania, David Bartlett, has issued a strong warning that governments and public servants across Australia need to focus their efforts and policies on the real opportunities for savings and innovation that can come from the Open Data movement rather than continuing to restrict access and selling access to information collected from the public and businesses.
Speaking to Government News ahead of a landmark government and industry summit on the future of public sector analytics in Canberra on Thursday convened by the Australian Information Industry Association Mr Bartlett is urging policymakers and bureaucrats alike to thinking about the efficiencies that can come from allowing external developers to crunch publicly available data rather than ring-fencing assets with commercial paywalls.
“I think that [government paywalls] are the wrong way of thinking about things,” Mr Bartlett said.
“I think that within the within the confines of privacy [laws] of course the freer and more open we make data sets the better public policy we will get and the lower cost per unit of service delivery we will get as well.”
Government agencies now operating data paywalls include the Australian Securities and Investments Commission that resells information it compels businesses to provide to it as the corporate regulator.
Similarly, many state governments and local charge for access to data from regulatory functions surrounding the property and motor industries.
The frank assessment from the former Tasmanian Premier comes as government agencies and organisations across federal, state and local jurisdictions grapple with a huge increase in the volumes and availability of data now being generated online and from mobile devices.
Once expensive and resource intensive to slice and dice through powerful data analytics software, the price of digging so-called ‘information gems’ through data mining has fallen rapidly over the last few years thanks to the adoption of technologies like cloud computing that allows users to fire up processing power as a pay-as-you-go service.
The falling price of processing power, servers and associated analytics has been seized upon by developers the private sector who are now able to create powerful data models and associated software that can spot patterns of behaviour and often predict events before they occur.
Transport authorities and businesses have been some of the keenest adopters of using both real time data and advanced analytics and modelling because of the immediate payoffs that come from better management of traffic flows and passenger loads.
Mr Bartlett said that the “ubiquitous connectivity” now provided by smartphones and various wearable gadgets meant that there was now exabytes of data being generated passively and actively that could be used by not only industry but government.
“The commercial world is exploiting that to create wealth. That’s fine but government needs to get its head around how to use big data and analytics to solve public policy problems.”
A key example cited by Mr Bartlett was the use of crowd sourced data by the New South Wales Roads and Maritime Service to improve the quality of information displayed on electronic signs on freeways.
While applauding that initiative, Mr Bartlett still wants governments to grasp the nettle and do more in key areas including health and wellbeing policy where governments are facing some of the most intense cost pressures.
This meant going through a public discourse so that people were better appraised of both the opportunities and benefits as well as the risks that stemmed from data analytics.
“I have a sense that the answers and challenges that we face in health and wellness, we need to understand where analytics come into all that data that we are creating as citizens and turning that into solutions,” Mr Bartlett said.
“We rightly should be concerned about [the] big data [that is] all about us being interrogated by our governments,” Mr Bartlett said.
“But I’d argue that increasingly we leave a digital trace everywhere we go and [from] everything we do. We should put in safeguards around how that data is used.
“I’d be more concerned about the commercial exploitation of that data than the public good exploitation of that data which is essentially what the government should be about,” Mr Bartlett said.
Meanwhile, there is no shortage of heavy hitters from politics, the public service and industry lining up to thrash it out at the AIIA Navigating Analytics Summit in Canberra.
Federal Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull is expected to spell out several of his expectations for both the bureaucracy and industry alike at the event as he seeks to put his stamp on forthcoming policy and differentiate it from Labor’s popular vision of a digital economy powered by a National Broadband Network that took optical fibre to the home.
Mr Turnbull has made no secret he expects progress in getting higher speed broadband to be faster and less expensive under the Coalition’s less ambitious and cheaper plan for the mammoth scheme.
However equally as important will be the input of key serving and former bureaucrats and industry with firm views and practical experience about what can be achieved now that the federal government has signalled its intention for much greater private sector involvement in service delivery and the increased contestability of many government functions now performed in-house.
Speakers at the event include Steve Sargent is President and Chief Executive Officer of GE in Australia and former Department of Human Services technology and service delivery expert Marie Johnson, now managing director of the Centre for Digital Business who was once the chief information officer for Joe Hockey’s Access Card project during the Howard government.
Other speakers include Anthony Viel, National Managing Partner for Deloitte Analytics as well as Elizabeth Moore, Telstra’s Head of Research, Insights and Analytics and Patricia Hopkins, the Australian & New Zealand regional leader for analytics and predictive modelling stalwart SAS.
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