The proposed $1.5 billion cuts to the Australian Public Service over the coming the four years is just one of the examples of how Australian government – federal, state and territory, and local – are expected to do more with less. To deliver on the outcomes they are expected to achieve, the public sector need to use data better to drive policy and engagement.
There is a wealth of data at the disposal of government with an estimated 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created daily. To use this data effectively, it is important for government to look to developing their expertise in building data strategies and business intelligence tools that provide simple and user-friendly interfaces for accessing data. Achieving this will improve government decision-making at every level.
But in seeking to build best practices for using analytics, it is important for government to learn from others. And within the public sector, there are clear leaders to look to.
Public sector leaders
“We’re seeing more public sector organisations promote the efficient use of data assets. These strategic drivers are increasing data accessibility internally as well as externally – which can improve service delivery, transfer policy outcomes, grow the economy, and especially provide greater transparency to engagement with the public,” Nigel Mendonca, Tableau Software Country Manager for Australia-New Zealand, explained.
Open data through initiatives such as data.gov.au aim to provide “value for growing the economy, improving service delivery and transforming policy outcomes” through its use and reuse by commercial and non-commercial entities. But this relies on users seeing value in analysing and transforming the data for wider public use – and with more than 75,000 datasets reported to be available on data.gov.au in June 2019 from 803 contributing organisations, not all will be considered valuable.
It is the responsibility of government to ensure that data is accessible in a secure way, and bridging the gap between open data and wider engagement using business intelligence tools is becoming increasingly important.
AIHW, the national agency for health and welfare statistics, built an internal and external data collaboration environment using Tableau Desktop and Tableau Server to improve the use of their data. And the New South Wales Department of Family and Community Services are now using interactive visualisations as standard practice in the delivery of their data. Through these interfaces, both agencies enable the general public to understand how they are impacted by policies and services and assist them to ask questions of the data.
And it is improving wider use and re-use of the data outside of government.
The challenge of communicating the benefits of data clearly
Policies and strategies to improve the use of data at all levels of government are driving transformation.
“We’re seeing things consistent across federal and state governments, and even at a local level – there is a greater focus on data and analytics and leveraging data to drive better outcomes,” Mendonca said. “More organisations are governing and managing their data as a strategic asset. They have an understanding that data is important.”
But despite the awareness of the importance of data and many organisations knowing what they want to do with it, getting there remains a challenge.
Systems, strategies and people are all central to building data capabilities, according to Mendonca, saying that government is commonly seeking support in one of three areas.
The first is support for the performance of the data — the technology platform, its management and security. The second is for user enablement, which can provide different levels of access to the data and visualisation tools. And the third is in building data communities – internal communities with organisations or connected networks to help people making strategic decisions about data.
In building capabilities, many organisations are developing a Centre of Excellence around data and analytics.
“This could be a cross-functional team – the go-to people or champions within an organisation,” Mendonca said. “They will go out of their way to build capability, lead people and help with design frameworks for internal governance. But in building capability, it is important to recognise that there is no silver bullet – and organisations should be looking to each other to learn.”
Engaging with service providers builds better capability
Learning from each other and building internal capability is important to facilitate better use of data. In the same way, it is important to recognise the government as a client technology vendor – and leverage its value in this role.
Improving accessibility to meet WCAG 2.0 guidelines is an important area of development in building better data tools supporting government demand, and platforms continue to be broadened to support faster and better data delivery.
“Our research showed that while organisations might understand how to visualise data, they were spending 80 per cent of their time wrangling data to get it into a format they could visualise and engage with,” Mendonca said. “So this is one area where we are building better services to support usefulness and usability within government.”
Better data catalogue tools to support governance – providing insights and visibility around the data organisations have and how they can best use that and manage it – is another area of growing importance in software capability thanks to government demand.
“This is all focused on helping people to make smarter decisions with data – and in the public sector space, this can help improve our country,” Mendonca said.