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Diving into big data
Weekly column from Council Courier e-newsletter by CEO Greg Hallam, Friday 2, June 2017.
I want to share with you an exciting new project that the LGAQ has launched. It promises to deliver big benefits for councils and put local government in Queensland at the forefront of driving the benefits of technological change.
The LGAQ Board has approved the creation of a new unit to analyse the huge amounts of data local government owns and propose ways in which councils can use the patterns and trends in this data to improve their productivity and innovation. I also want to assure councils that this project will not be funded through any rise in subscriptions or extra levy.
The unit, to be called LG Sherlock, follows 18 months of investigation by myself and senior LGAQ executives into the prospects of big data, data analytics and blockchain technology and where these advances might take local government in coming years.
In 25 years at the helm of the LGAQ I have rarely seen a more valuable opportunity to ensure our member councils stay ahead of the game. The work we do here will provide the solutions to a great many of the challenges councils are likely to face in the coming decade.
The practice of using data analysis to make better decisions in local government is not new. Many councils around Queensland have adopted technologies such as vehicle tracking, noise sensors, water meters and smart lighting to provide better value for money for their ratepayers.
But it’s important to understand that the rate and amount of data being created by council businesses and services - not to mention other levels of government - is set to grow exponentially as more and more devices are connected online.
Much of this data, with the right level of analysis, will be extremely valuable to local government. As The Economist put it recently:
“The world’s most important resource is no longer oil, but data”.
Data analytics has featured on many strategic agendas for many years and several councils are taking steps to integrate analytics into their businesses.
But there remains a significant role for the LGAQ to work with councils to help understand the importance of data and to find ways to create an environment where analytics can drive good decision making.
These decisions are key to ensuring councils are doing the best job they can representing their communities.
Our approach has four key facets, all aimed at creating a service that helps councils gain insights from data that they may not be able to achieve themselves.
The four key areas involve the following:
- Raising awareness of the importance of councils adopting a “data-centric” culture to drive decisions based on analytics;
- Promoting the value of data as an asset and the need for investment in ensuring it is up to date, usable and well managed;
- Encouraging growth in new skills involving data in fields such as business, procurement analysis, policy development and advocacy; and finally,
- Creating tools such as a data lake to assist the analytics task.
We all know that private and public organisations routinely use financial data as a cornerstone on which to base their decisions, and this role will not diminish.
However, the reach and impact of social media and mobility and the growth of cloud computing has changed local communities in ways that mean fundamental changes to the way councils go about their business.
The Internet of Things, where any switch, monitor, alarm, motor, light or other device can now be connected online, is creating massive amounts of new data. To give some perspective on this change, 90 percent of the entire data the world has created has occurred in the past two years.
We believe while councils will gain value from analysing their own data in new ways, untold benefits will result once they are able to sift and analyse relevant data from third parties such as state and federal governments, their agencies, even the LGAQ and its subsidiaries.
The LGAQ is in an ideal position to collect and manage data that would either assist councils find new insights or complement councils who have their own analytics strategies in place.
The key will be achieving success in those four areas I mentioned earlier, and that requires a lot of work if we are to master the data challenge. Over the coming months, the LGAQ will continue to raise the importance of data analytics and provide progress reports to you, our members, on how we are tracking.
I look forward to this pivotal chapter in local government.