Cross-border address database the model for innovation

By Tom Burton

Wednesday March 2, 2016

If you want a living example of large-scale data innovation in government, consider the release on last Friday of the national address database, known as G-NAF (Geocoded National Address File).

The data and associated administrative boundaries was released to the public and developers by PSMA Australia, a company owned by state, territory and Australian governments established to co-ordinate the collection of fundamental national geospatial datasets.

The database is a highly curated collection of 30 databases from state and federal agencies, including 13.5 million principle addresses.

“Clarke has maintained and nurtured a core group to curate and bring together the address data.”

The development of the G-NAF has been been led by the Prime Minister’s now chief of staff, Drew Clarke. The former secretary for Communications and Resources is an ex-surveyor. Over a decade Clarke has maintained and nurtured a core group to curate and bring together the address data.

The Geocoded address data can be used for many purposes, including personal navigation applications, infrastructure planning, business planning and analysis, logistics and service planning, and government service delivery and policy development.

An example of its use? It provides an understanding of the approximate number of dwellings in an area, which can inform decisions for planning and developing community facilities and services.

The new Assistant Minister for Cities and Digital Transformation, Angus Taylor, said Australia becomes one of only a few countries in the world to make national geocoded address data openly available:

“Denmark made its geocoded address data open in 2002 and access to this data has been estimated to have added 62 million euros to the Danish economy in the five years from 2005-2009.

“Data volumes are growing exponentially and so too is the potential value of public data. Australia’s capacity to remain competitive in the global digital economy depends on how well we can harness the value of this public data.”

“The Australian government recognises the importance of effectively managing, sharing and publishing public data as a national resource for the benefit of the Australian people.”

Taylor says no personal data is included in the release.

A milestone for open data

The database is also a good example of federal collaboration, between PSMA and the various state land agencies and several federal agencies including the Australian Bureau of Statistics. And it’s milestone in the open data movement, representing the publication of an industrial-level data set that has major potential cross-economy benefits.

A 2014 report by Lateral Economics suggested “more vigorous open data policies could add around $16 billion per annum to the Australian economy”.

Many of these benefits come from application providers building solutions using the data. In NSW the release of transport data by Transport for NSW has spurred several travel applications, as well as the data now being used by the major online mapping platforms such as Google and Apple’s mapping product.

The Prime Minister released an open data policy after last December’s innovation statement, which mandates the release of non-sensitive data by default and encourages the release of APIs to allow computers to easily access the data.

Australia has a strong heritage in mapping, which stems from the need for accurate geological data to support mining and agriculture. Much of the early work around Google Maps was undertaken at Google’s Sydney headquarters.

In a sign of the interest in data analytics in the federal government, a leading proponent of how government should think about data, Boston Consulting Groups’s Philip Evans, is due to shortly speak to the APS 200 leadership group. The APS200 had fallen away, but is being resurrected by the new secretary of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson.

NSW late last year passed path-breaking legislation to enable better data sharing among agencies to support its new Digital Analytics Centre.

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