Australian government agencies know the value of data, with a recent Microsoft study showing 88 per cent of their leaders agree on its importance in meeting citizen demands. That said, siloed data stores and technology systems across public sector agencies have historically made it difficult to get the most out of this information.
The Australian government is taking measures to address this. The National Data Advisory Council, which met in March for the first time, has been tasked to advise on data ethics, social licence building and technical best practice. It will create a framework to break down the barriers that prevent effective public data sharing.
Meanwhile, the arrival of cloud technology makes the processing power needed to understand, analyse and correlate disparate data sources more accessible. Services such as Microsoft Azure make cloud applications available on demand, reducing the need for hardware investment.
With regulatory and technological barriers lowered, the Australian public sector is well poised for an open data revolution that will significantly improve services. Its success will rely on effective data integration, policies that ensure security and ethical usage, and people with the right skills to execute openness.
Seamless Citizen Services
Better data linkage across government will make service access easier for citizens. For instance, it can tackle the need for separate login credentials for digital access to each government agency. Public sector organisations must cater to all levels of digital literacy, and login issues can be a considerable barrier to this.
Through data sharing, the federal government is working to allow citizens to identify themselves once for access to numerous services. Similarly, the South Australian government is creating agency-wide digital information forms that are linked across services, to prevent users from entering duplicate information.
Outside of identity, data sharing will also facilitate better use of resources and free up public servants. One recent example is the creation of the Police Justice Information Exchange System in Western Australia. This facilitates data sharing across agencies for the WA Police and the courts, to quickly integrate data on a defendant's passage through the justice system and cut down on the administration resources required.
New Insights through Data Analysis and AI
Value from linking datasets is often unknown until the data sources are open for experimentation. Public sector organisations are building ways to open their data, even when the desired outcome is not instantly clear.
The Data Integration Partnership for Australia (DIPA) - a whole-of-government initiative to make better use of existing public data - will help make information available for researchers to aid the development of emerging social, economic, and environmental policy priorities.
Notably, it sets limits on which organisations can access that data, ensuring it is only used to benefit citizens.
Cloud AI tools now make it possible to ingest vast troves of data from multiple services to spot insights in disparate sources.
More data of course means more analysis, and its large volume means this is unachievable manually. Cloud AI tools now make it possible to ingest vast troves of data from multiple services to spot insights in disparate sources. As this program expands, and is combined with powerful cloud analytics tools, this will provide new opportunities for the public sector to discover use cases.
More data will also give Australia's AI industry a boost. The Australian government has committed $29.9 million over four years to artificial intelligence (AI) funding, but this is heavily reliant on data to work. Providing a framework to Australian organisations to use vast public data sources is key to having the best outcomes.
Successful delivery of digital and data services depends on acquiring digital skills and improving the technical foundations of security and infrastructure.
Rather than employing permanent staff, it is more productive for governments to work on a contract basis. This will remove the need for extensive training, and allow open data projects to be devised much quicker.
Using vendor partnerships to improve services
The Australian public sector is entering an exciting era as technological and regulatory forces combine to provide a better environment to process and share data. The tight budgets of public sector organisations mean dedicating investment towards experimentation can be difficult. However, the combination of cloud technology and policies that embrace openness make it easier than ever.
The government's creation of data-sharing frameworks is important but would have limited impact without partnering with vendors, allowing cloud platforms and technologists to be embedded in the business, and partnering with small and medium-sized enterprises to deliver analytic campaigns with a focus on quick turn around and maximising returns on investment. This approach means government agencies can complete their open data projects with limited financial risk.
- Rafael Moyano is the chief executive of Modis Australia.