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Joining the big data bullet train

Date

Trevor Clarke

Big data has sped past the bandwagon ... the need to analyse and interpret masses of government data has prompted the creation of a new Data Analytics Centre of Excellence.

Big data has sped past the bandwagon ... the need to analyse and interpret masses of government data has prompted the creation of a new Data Analytics Centre of Excellence. Photo: AP Photo/Amtrak

The Australian Tax Office has been chosen to lead Australia's next wave of data analysis in a move labelled a "sea change" in the way government agencies deal with statistics.

It was chosen ahead of the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the nation's leading statistical body.

The ATO will be heading the new Data Analytics Centre of Excellence to help shine a light on terabytes and terabytes of data captured by various government agencies. 

The Australian Government Information Office (AGIMO) announced the centre of excellence last week, as the push for big data in government circles intensifies. The new initiative aims to encourage agencies to share information, skills, and to help identify trends useful for shaping government policy.

The first meeting between the ATO, AGIMO, academics and representatives from other departments to set up the centre took place in early March and is part of Australian Public Service ICT Strategy 2012-2015. AGIMO CIO Glenn Archer release the Government's Big Data Issues paper on Friday.

Its terms of reference are currently being drafted but the new initiative aims to encourage agencies to share information and experiences on data analytics skills, tools and techniques, and identify trends to shape whole of government policy development.

"The outreach and communication activities of the centre will be determined once the terms of reference are agreed," an ATO spokesperson said.

"AGIMO is separately developing a strategy for the management of big data and has established a working group which will work closely with the Data Analytics Centre of Excellence."

Notably, the initiative is not being led by ABS, the nation's leading statistical body which last week was heavily involved in the NatStats 2013 Conference that featured big data discussions and examples in government.

Many agencies like the ATO and the Department of Human Services, Department of Defence, CSIRO and NICTA are already be heavily involved in large-scale data analysis efforts, including the use of big data tools.

"Today data analytics supports improved public administration across the Australian Public Service," said the ATO spokesperson. 

"Data matching and data sharing allows government agencies to share information to provide improved service. For example, sharing of some prescribed Centrelink and Medicare data allows pre-filling of e-tax labels. Aggregated data is provided to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which reduces the double-reporting load for many of our businesses."

Ovum analyst, Kevin Noonan, described the centre initiative as timely and something of a "sea change" for the way AGIMO works with industry.

"In the past the intent has been there, but some follow through [was] needed to improve a little bit," Noonan said.

He said the initiative was constructive.

"They have engaged an agency in Tax which has a very clear interest in the topic from a business perspective – they have skin in the game – and they are going to be able to do a good job in leading it. And they are going out to industry and looking for input.

"In terms of driving something like big data, which is quite a difficult topic to get your head around, this is a good practical approach that lines up all of the key players."

Although agencies are expected to assist each other in developing analytical capabilities and already share data sets, currently big data activities are conducted independently by each agency. There are no current plans to set up a special outfit that sits above all agencies to conduct analysis on all available data.

8 comments so far

  • "Oh, grandmother, what big ears you have!"

    "All the better to hear you with."

    "Oh, grandmother, what big eyes you have!"

    "All the better to see you with."

    You know the rest. They are all TAXED TO DEATH.

    Commenter
    evanism
    Date and time
    March 18, 2013, 6:52PM
    • It will go like this. Clueless management hires IT consultants. Consultants do not have expertise' and talented experts will not work for these unethical psychos so they will claim "skill shortage" and import the staff on 457s. It will go over budget and have no plans for BAU operations and be redundant on day 1. I despair that IT will ever be done properly now the consultants are in charge. Too many rewards for poor , no accountability.

      Commenter
      Andy
      Location
      Melb
      Date and time
      March 19, 2013, 7:14AM
      • ...or worse...
        data matching of disparate quality will intrude mightily into the lives of the poor unfortunate "filtered ones" under the full weight of Tax office legal authority. The "please explains" will tar reputations for life, break the finances of individuals, and make some innocent lives miserable. I know it sounds melodramatic but this is the stuff suicides are born of.

        The matching technology has matured a lot since insurance fraud investigations of the early '80s, It isn't technically difficult to achieve an outcome from this. But data quality across Depts ? Uurrgh ! With such flakey input there should be a "No Harm" requirement that is routinely audited by independent parties.

        BTW are they trawling private, corporations and State data as well as Federal records ?. What is the intended reach ?

        Ironically, the best safeguard for privacy etc has always been an Australia Card or equivalent.

        Commenter
        gbills
        Date and time
        March 19, 2013, 9:50AM
      • and another thing ....Its terms of reference are currently being drafted but the new initiative aims to encourage agencies to share.....

        The ToR process should be open to submissions from the public and be required to report the scope and reach and usage intended.

        How about some freedom of the press commitments on this. SMH; step up and monitor an unsexy but socially profound initiative.

        Commenter
        gbills
        Date and time
        March 19, 2013, 9:56AM
    • Does anyone remember the huge outcry about the Australia card in the '80s? People were baulking at this kind government collating of information about an individual but instead the government is bringing the identity card idea in under the cover of Since when did a person's right to privacy get trumped by an organisation's convenience? Also, won't a centralised data source be more vulnerable to exhaustive data theft?
      When on probation for a job, CSIRO (through a private contractor) did a complete physical examination (via private contractor) on me of which they couldn't tell me the type of tests or the results. Scary in itself, but more so when all government agencies have access to this data.
      Perhaps they should make human rights education a course requirement for IT folk.

      Commenter
      Yikes!
      Date and time
      March 19, 2013, 10:01AM
      • I believe the internet has accustomed people to get free stuff - in exchange for not so obvious personal usage details which are scrupulously stored and tracked by google, facebook, et al.

        We refused the Australia Card and told the government we wanted our privacy - then we gave it away to the nearest facebook or people who offered us a 'chance to win'

        a bit like the security test for a lot of organisations - people standing outside a secure organisation at lunchtime - free chocolate bar if you give me your password - a disturbing number of people were happy to - mmm chocolate ...

        Commenter
        frank
        Location
        sydney
        Date and time
        March 20, 2013, 10:02PM
    • When the ID card was first proposed and was voted down it was Plan B data mashing across departments. Again the ID card version 2.0 failed, so its data mashing across departments version 2.0. Just add a twitter feed, a pinch of Facebook profiling and a kilo or two of ATO and ABS data and you have the new big brother. Why no government agency oversight because they don't need too. Just bank roll some Uni project like Aurin that gives you everything you want minus the prying eyes.

      Commenter
      DC
      Location
      Melbourne
      Date and time
      March 19, 2013, 10:53AM
      • This is quite worrying.

        Instead of amalgamating all the separate views of data to make it "easier to fill in forms", there should be extremely strict divisions between the databases held by different government departments. Violations of these divisions should be taken extremely seriously.

        The government (as well as private entities) should be open about, and have to justify, every bit of data they collect and store about us. And we should be confident that that data is used strictly only for its intended purpose.

        Commenter
        TheMagnum
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        March 19, 2013, 12:34PM

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