News & Analysis

NSW launches “whole-of-government” data initiative to help startups create smart solutions to societal problems

- August 5, 2015 5 MIN READ

Despite data being one of the greatest assets at the disposal of governments, it is also one of the most underutilised. For long, governments, both at a state and federal level, have been sitting on millions of bytes of data and spent tax dollars on products that are still perceived to be substandard. This may be set to change with the NSW Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation, The Hon Victor Dominello MP, announcing the launch of a “whole-of-government” data analytics centre to drive innovation in the State.

Mr Dominello told Startup Daily that the initiative is intended to be mutually-beneficial for governments and entrepreneurs alike; the development of policy and delivery of government-led services will benefit from the effective and judicious use of data analytics.

The initiative suggests that the NSW government believes entrepreneurs should be at the forefront of innovation; instead of spending tax dollars on government-led products, entrepreneurs should be leading the way and creating innovative solutions to big societal problems like crime, obesity and housing affordability.

“This is a classic win-win situation. At the end of the day, data is not something that should be disregarded. It’s actually an asset. But previously it’s been treated as a lazy asset where people just file it away in a book. But it can actually be one of the most productive assets that the government has,” said Mr Dominello.

“And people need to realise that data, when it comes to logistics and transport and fair trading, is a public asset. If we can utilise that to benefit public outcomes, then that’s a great thing. If we can then use the startups to design apps to drive those outcomes, then it’s a classic win-win.”

Globally, we’re producing data at an unprecedented rate. According to IBM research, more than more than 2.5 quintillion bytes of data is generated each day; and analyst firm IDC estimates that all data created, replicated and consumed is doubling every two years. By 2020, it’s expected that there will be over 44 trillion gigabytes of digital data. This is significantly less than what was predicted by CSC in 2010 – that is, global data production to increase 4,300 percent from 2.52 zettabytes in 2010 to 73.5 zettabytes in 2020 – however, is enormous enough to create opportunities for innovation, identify new service and policy approaches and support the delivery of existing government-led programmes.

As we know, technology is a potent force for creating smart solutions; and the adoption of new technologies, as well as the production of structured and unstructured data outside government, suggest that big data analytics can increase the value of this asset to governments and the people of Australia.

“Our government has an open data policy and the default position is that data belongs to the people of New South Wales and it should be opened up to the people unless there are privacy or security concerns around that,” said Mr Dominello.

“This is a policy that will enable startups to thrive in the same way that coal and steel was the fuel of the Industrial Revolution; data is the fuel of the Information Revolution.”

Mr Dominello acknowledged that governments are the biggest spenders in all economies; they spend millions on logistics, transport, hospitals, schools and more. However, there are certainly areas that lack efficiency and so there are opportunities to reduce costs. For example, NSW spends $5 million a year on congestion. If entrepreneurs can build solutions that reduce congestion, that cost can be invested in other more pressing areas or save taxpayers money.

“We have very smart people out there who are able to design apps that can marry up all of this [transport data around the running times of buses, trains and ferries]; and with the press of a button, people can find out where the next train is, whether it’s on time, where the next bus is and how far away it is from the bus stop. This is very valuable to consumers. If you [consider] the congestion cost for NSW, which is around $5 million a year, apps that can help reduce congestion [has] enormous value to governments. That’s just a very easy example of how an app can improve our lives,” said Mr Dominello.

At the time of speaking to Mr Dominello last week, he had been Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation for a little over 100 days. Since the appointment, he has been present in many startup community events and has engaged with key leaders in the space to understand what the NSW startup ecosystem needs.

“I’m determined to make sure that New South Wales is not just a leader in this country but on the world stage when it comes to innovation and hopefully in relation to data and analytics,” he said.

Despite sounding a little tired, Mr Dominello told Startup Daily that he’s enjoying the role and insisted that he entered politics to make a difference – specifically, to empower people and to provide them with opportunities and better choices.

“[I want] to try and improve some of the social scourges that we have; and I can’t think of a vehicle beyond the portfolio I’ve got now that can transform lives in regards to innovation. This is one of the most transformative tools that the government has got” he said.

“I do love [the role] not because I am a scientist or an engineer or a mathematician, but because I’m a humanitarian, and I want to improve the lives of people.”

Although there’s still room for improvement in NSW, Mr Dominello believes the State, particularly the Sydney region, is “the envy of the world”.

“If you’re given opportunities to come here and work, most people would put [Sydney] in their top 10 list. We have political stability and [plenty of opportunities],” he said.

“Sydney NSW is also seen as the financial services hub of Southeast Asia; and there’s a great synergy between the financial banking sector and startups in the FinTech sector.

“We already have the highest amount of startups in Sydney NSW. We’ve got 64% so we’ve got the critical mass already. And we’ve got major players from around the world having bases here such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, just to name a few.

“If you bring all of these ingredients together, [combined with the fact that] we have a very strong economy here, then you quickly come to the conclusion that we have a natural digital ecosystem for data to flourish.”

Although the Data Analytics Centre is not the Australian government’s first data initiative, it has been deemed the largest. Mr Dominello admitted that making the Open Data Policy effective is not going to be an easy feat, given data is useless unless it’s understood and utilised well. But the initiative is a step forward to building the right analytics infrastructure for entrepreneurs to leverage off.

“I am working tirelessly behind the scenes to ensure that our Open Data Policy is effective. But more importantly, I’ll be approaching the community and [working on] an innovative solution [to address] how we can bring more data in a collaborative manner to the sector.”

Brenda Aynsley, President of the Australian Computer Society, an association for Australia’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) sector, praised the initiative saying that is demonstrates the important role digital technologies will play in the future in the future of service delivery.

“The holistic approach taken by the Minister by involving multiple stakeholders will lead to a better outcome overall, and as the professional association for Australia’s ICT sector we are looking forward to seeing the outcomes that this centre will deliver,” Ms Aynsley said in a media statement.

“We have continually called on Government to deliver better data on the digital economy, and it is encouraging to see this call being heeded here in NSW. This is a wonderful example of how governments can capture the enormous benefits of open data and data analytics.”

The Data Analytics Centre’s location is still to be determined, but Startup Daily has been notified that it will be within the Department of Finance, Services and Innovation.

A government steering committee of has been set up to shape the Centre’s strategy and advise on best practice. The committee includes Privacy Commissioner Dr Elizabeth Coombs, Information Commissioner Elizabeth Tydd, Customer Service Commissioner Mike Pratt and Chief Scientist & Engineer Professor Mary O’Kane.

Image: Victor Dominello MP, Minister for Innovation and Better Regulation. Source: Victor Dominello MP Facebook page.

Update: Location of the Data Analytics Centre was previously incorrect and has been updated.