How data analytics could change NSW

NSW Data Analytics Centre a model for other Australian states, minister says

Establishing New South Wales’ Data Analytics Centre and creating a regime where government entities are compelled to hand over data to it could rank as Victor Dominello’s single biggest achievement in public life, the NSW minister for innovation and better regulation told a conference today.

Addressing the Gartner Business Intelligence, Analytics & Information Management Summit in Sydney, the minister said that the DAC, established last year, had the potential to deliver better outcomes for NSW communities in areas ranging from fighting childhood obesity to efficient use of public safety resources.

“Governments that don’t have data, governments that don’t have information, make decisions in the dark – and that’s not good for any of us,” Dominello said.

Within NSW there are some 160 different government agencies, 20 state-owned corporations and 152 local councils, the minister said.

“Each and every one of these structures are collecting data – but do you think they’re sharing data?” Dominello said.

“There’s a culture inside government – and I imagine it’s in the corporate world as well – [where] you want to keep the data really close. Because once you share data – what do you do? You open yourself up to transparency and accountability.”

“And that’s brave; that’s bold,” the minister said. “But you need to do that in order to drive better outcomes.”

At the heart of the DAC is enabling legislation introduced last year by the state government.

“I went about setting up this Data Analytics Centre, but in order to make it work I had to introduce a bill into parliament which basically requires all of these different agencies to give me their data on state-based priority projects,” Dominello said.

The intention is for the DAC to break down silos between data held by different government agencies and the Data Sharing (Government Sector) Act 2015 authorised the minister to direct an agency to hand over specified data within 14 days.

Dominello offered as an example the kind of problem that analytics could help solve the number of false alarms that result in a Fire and Rescue NSW callout.

Fire alarms are triggered 48,000 times a year in the Sydney metro area and 97 per cent are false alarms. For each incident two fire trucks respond, which can be a dangerous drain on resources.

Dominello said that Fire and Rescue had approached the DAC to see if it could whittle down the number of two-truck callouts.

“This is just a typical and very topical example of how we can use data to improve outcomes for the people of New South Wales and more broadly Australia once the other states realise what we’re on to here,” the minister said.

Two hackathons have worked on the problem, with data sets — ranging from electricity grid data and information on 000 callouts to social media and weather data — being made available to students and professional data scientists.

“This is just a very small example of how big this is going to be,” he said.

“This wasn’t one set of data from Fire and Rescue. This was data from a whole lot of different agencies that we’re bringing together in a safe harbour inside of government to get better outcomes.”

The next iteration will involve opening up more data sets. Making appropriately anonymised data sets available to organisations outside of government opens the possibility of combining it with private sector data and coming up with innovative, tailored solutions to problems such as childhood obesity, the minister said.

“Even now there are so many requests made on my agency for the use of the DAC because people are now starting to realise how powerful this tool is,” Dominello said.

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