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Big Data could rescue Australia's economy and the public service


Phillip Thomson

The cash-strapped public service in Australia should unlock the value of big data, which could help the nation save and earn an extra $16 billion a year, a fresh report says.

The Lateral Economics report said making better use of the masses of data the bureaucracy already held would be enough to increase GDP growth by 1 per cent in the next five years.  

This would be half of the 2 per cent growth goal Australia signed up to with other G20 nations earlier this year

The Lateral Economics report recommended the release of much more government-held and private company information into the public domain.

It even suggested mining exploration rights could be granted by governments on the proviso there would be greater disclosure of seismic data.

"Government has similar leverage where it delivers or funds service delivery, for example in health and education," the report said.

The report said the free flow of the latest accurate information could be worth $3.6 billion a year to Australia's economy solely because of the advantage it would give to fiscal policymakers.

Another $1.6 billion per annum could be gained in releasing valuable trade information.

The report said big data could reduce corruption to the value of $1.5 billion a year in Australia, partly because it had already been proven that groups in the community could use large sets of information to uncover financial fraud and other crimes for the benefit of taxpayers.

Employers and workers would be matched up easier, efficiencies would be gained in the energy sector and the most needy areas for infrastructure would also be helped more quickly, according to the document commissioned by investment firm Omidyar Network and released Thursday.  

The report argued for the intelligent use of big data and Lateral Economics chief executive Nicholas Gruen said there would always be people running inaccurate scare campaigns about the dangers to privacy.

He said achieving the best use of big data was not about political willpower and more about imagination. 

"This stuff doesn't get you any enemies, although it does require attention to detail," Mr Gruen said.

"The report shows there are lots of examples where data should be available but isn't.

"Everyone is well intentioned but we have to do better."

He said in 2009 the United Kingdom, United States and Australia were leading the world in the use of big data but Australia had since slipped.

He said Australia would still be in the same position among G20 countries, but would now be seventh or eigth globally. 

One challenge was the gains often appeared intangible. The benefit was often the economy running smoother and more quickly. 

While the $16 billion annual figure may seem high, others have suggested the value to be even greater.

The report noted a McKinsey and Company report and said analysis of its figures suggested the potential value of open data to Australia could be as much as $64 billion a year. 

Already entrepreneurs have been interested in approaching the government about how its data can best be used.

As previously reported, Canberra's Tiffany Hart, who runs the self-publishing business 7Write, has said the Commonwealth had vast swathes of information it should be publishing, much of which could benefit industries such as tourism.


  • Good luck with this one. Government agencies don't even share the right information amongst themselves let alone the community.

    Date and time
    June 19, 2014, 8:46AM
    • Two comments.

      First, it is all well and good to claim billions of dollars of economic productivity due to released data by government however all to often I see these claims made without the ability to back them up. How can you measure the economic value of the release of data from government? By the number of apps using the data? The revenue made by app developers?

      Secondly, surely the states and territories have data which has greater value than the Commonwealth. If this is the case - and GDP growth of 1%+ can be realised through open data - then surely the commonwealth and the states should be aggressively publishing data sets and making them easily usable for all (multiple formats, machine readable, current etcetera)

      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 8:58AM
      • That isn't exactly accurate, govt agencies do share information among themselves, the problem is an inherent lack of trust amongst the govt agencies.

        Just to be clear, the idea that this is an issue with the agency providing the data is not correct. The onus is across the framework that the agencies work within and the bureaucracy that ties our public service in knots.
        It also has to do with the high levels of incompetence that litter the public service, at all levels, ensuring there is no confidence in how the data will be handled.

        Having been introduced into a circumstance where a dept was attempting to secure confidential data I found some of the individuals who were attempting to secure the data were infact incompetent, had tunnel vision, were narrow minded and had low to no concept of actual collaborative working, this bred a mistrust in me, someone who was assisting them, that they would be able to safely manipulate and use the data, let alone the agency who was providing the data.

        Before people get worried that I'm just another person bashing public servants, let me assure you, I am well aware that there are some absolute allstars in our public service, however, there are also those individuals who no longer care about the benefit they provide the organisation.

        Basically its turned into a confederacy of dunces.

        Date and time
        June 19, 2014, 9:40AM
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