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EXCLUSIVE - OpenGov Breakfast Insight session on analytics leadership in government transformation

Analytics Leadership – Driving Government Transformation, an exclusive Breakfast Insights Session, was held in Wellington, New Zealand on 22 May 2018.

OpenGov Asia, in collaboration with SAS, featured Ms Karen Harfield, General Manager of the Information, Debt and Appeals Division, Department of Human Services, as a keynote speaker coming from Australia, who shared her experience of analytics from an international perspective.

In attendance at the event were senior technology leaders from a range of public sector agencies in New Zealand.

‍Mr Mohit Sagar, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov Asia

Mr Mohit Sagar, Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of OpenGov Asia, opened the session by explaining his job to attendees. He spoke of helping the government transform itself and offering attendees the chance to ask hard questions.

He shared that although several countries in the regions – including Singapore, Thailand, the Philippines and New Zealand – are transforming themselves, there are others that face challenges in the region.

Mr Sagar encouraged government officials to share their experiences because this is where the learning begins.

Certain buzzwords causing noise in the region are business analytics, data science and security. Governments are still figuring out who is considered a data scientist. They are also burdened with having collected a lot of data and not yet knowing what to do with it.

Mr Sagar also spoke about Artificial Intelligence (AI), highlighting that although it seems to be a recent trend, it has been around for quite some time. It has evolved from AI to machine learning to deep learning. He pointed out that governments without experience in the use of AI now have the advantage of leapfrogging through decades of technology development, moving directly to deep learning platforms capable of providing real value.

“Smart Nation in Singapore really began twenty years ago,” he said. “But then, every person has a different definition to what Smart Nation really is. A lot of effort has been done for the people, in terms of becoming a Smart Nation, and yet they [Singaporean citizens] do not know what to do with it. For instance, IoT devices were placed in Singaporean houses for their safety but they did not want it because they did not know what the devices were for.”     

‍Mr Kroshlen Moodley, the Government Industry Lead from SAS New Zealand

Mr Kroshlen Moodley, the Government Industry Lead for SAS New Zealand, opened his welcoming address by noting, “The only constant in the analytics leadership journey has been that of constant change.” He said this to emphasise the change of organisational focus on analytics from being traditionally technology-centric to more information-centric.

He added that the structured control models used in analytics governance will change and instead be replaced with transparent trust-based models. This change in governance will introduce analytics leaders to new issues concerning security, privacy and ethics.

Analytics is no longer an IT-based function, and is now an immediate priority for business leaders – analytics is a leadership commitment.

Mr Moodley shared the 6 market forces that shape analytics today. They are:

(1) Cloud, which is a commodity that has changed the way that analytics is being consumed. Cloud has also contributed to flexible pricing and on-demand analytics-based models.

(2) “Everybody wants to be a data scientist.”   A data scientist is highly trained in data, science or mathematics but may lack general domain knowledge.  The citizen data scientist on the other hand is usually someone (typically a data warehouse programmer or analyst) who has tremendous experience in the business and the current data structures and can build the reports required by the business.

(3) The data landscape, which changed because of the move from using legacy structured systems and data to using text, images, streaming data and social media content.

(4) Open-source technology, which creates the challenge in managing multiple types of tools and technologies.

(5) Analytics of things, which is driving the demand to analyse data at the source, and at the edge on devices where the analytics is required, as compared to traditionally running analytics only on the central data warehouse.

(6) Machine Learning and AI, which he said have been around for years and that it is the increase in compute and processing power that has changed. He described the processing speed as the ability to handle large data volumes and run algorithms faster.

Ms Karen Harfield, General Manager of Information, Debt and Appeals Division, Department of Human Services, Australia

Invited keynote speaker Ms Karen Harfield is the General Manager of Information, Debt and Appeals Division, Department of Human Services in Australia.

In Ms Harfield’s experience, it is important to recognise that no matter how good an organisation thinks it is, there is usually a lot further to go on their journey.

She shared that the Department had a lot of system developments that were designed to make payments, but they were not specifically designed to extract information about their customers in a way that easily supports analysis for decision support. Most of the data they had was on payments made and types of payments, which had limited re-use opportunities.

The Department used to encounter difficulties with linkages but lately, she shared, that the information they have is linked and has shown how their customers move through the journey of payments.

She said that their customers have a lifelong relationship with the department and having information about their customers allows them to know about their vulnerabilities.

Ms Harfield shared that they have encountered issues on publishing, wherein they do not share data with each other. But on the one hand, she said that although years ago no one was really interested in data, now it is considered powerful and that data owners (within DHS and other government-wide stakeholders) want to maintain visability of use.  She added, “Everyone is quite nervous at what people might do with it.” But there are significant opportunities for policy and decision support whilst improving the customers experience.

From left to right: Mr Kroshlen Moodley, Government Industry Lead, SAS New Zealand; Dr Philip Stevens, Ministry of Education; Ms Erica Voss, Accident Compensation Corporation

After the speakers, Mr Sagar took the floor again to open the polling and discussion session.

For the question, “How would you rate your organisation’s use of data and data analytic tools for decision making?” Most respondents answered that it was ‘Fair’ and that they use their data in decision-making processes, but analysis is primarily a manual process.

Moreover, the problem, they shared, was a people-challenge. Education is not leveraged by people and so they cannot use the information they have at hand. Add to that is the problem of having a business owner that is not tech-savvy and sees IT as an expense rather than as a tool or weapon that they could maximise.

‘Disconnect between IT and Business’ was cited by most attendees as the biggest barrier to progress in an organisation’s data journey. Bias is the explanation given behind the disconnect. Often, business owners are pushing back on data because they do not like what they are seeing.

This echoes experience from previous events where business leaders are often highlighted as a key stumbling block. A frequent comment was that business leaders would be receptive to change after attending conferences, but often revert to a ‘business as usual’ approach on returning to work.

55% answered ‘Poor quality of data’ as the “most important data-related challenge to integrating more analytics into your day-to-day decision-making.” Participants explained that the information being retained is not the most important data. What often tends to be missing is the data where you can add real value.

‍From left to right: Mr Brent Glover, New Zealand Customer Service; Ms Linda Smith, Earthquake Commission; Mr Neil Cran, NZ Police

For the question, “What are the greatest concerns you face when using analytics software or tools?” the top answers were ‘Data governance concerns’, ‘Software licenses’ and ‘Expensive maintenance’.

Mr Kroshlen Moodley closed the event with saying that, “Chief Analytics officers should own the change, be inspirational and get the organisation excited about using analytics – make analytics your leadership commitment.”

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