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The public sector's dual role as regulator and driver of data initiatives

OpenGov recently spoke to Kamal Brar, Vice President and General Manager of APAC/ME, Hortonworks about how governments can strike a balance between enabling the data economy and mitigating risks for citizens and businesses. Mr. Brar also talked about the impact of trends like cloud and IoT and the implications of privacy protection regulations.

Founded in 2011, Hortonworks is a leading provider of big data platforms for capturing, storing, processing and analysing data. 

What are the most important trends you see currently in the use of big data by governments in the ASEAN region, in Singapore and in other countries?

The ASEAN region is rapidly moving towards a digitally-enabled economy, with the ASEAN ICE Masterplan 2020 (AIM2020). The plan encompasses eight strategic thrusts that focus on enabling an innovative, inclusive and integrated ASEAN community.

On this front, big data plays a central role in enabling innovation for ASEAN governments – starting with supporting open and big data application development.

The major trend we’re seeing across most ASEAN governments is the development of guides and applications for open and big data. 

Singapore and Malaysia have already taken steps to establish forums or platforms for the private sector to share big data developments, and the other governments are at varying levels of implementing similar strategies.

What has been the impact of developments like migration to cloud and proliferation of IoT devices for public sector data?

The capacity the Internet of Things (IoT) has to connect devices and gather previously unimagined amounts of information has led to an explosion of new kinds of data that’s opening up tremendous opportunities. Meanwhile, cloud-computing plays a critical role in harnessing data produced from billions of connected devices because of the flexibility and elasticity of the platforms. Together, the convergence of these two trends provide a unique opportunity for companies to rapidly ingest, process and analyse data to generate actionable insights and provide improved services – across a wide range of public sector services.

One example of its use in the public sector from the United States is the MITRE Corporation, a non-profit organisation that operates multiple federally funded research and development centres including the Center for Advanced Aviation System Development (CAASD), which serves the public interest by advancing the safety, security, effectiveness, and efficiency of aerospace in the United States and around the world.

The CAASD continuously ingests, stores and analyses massive amounts of detailed flight data from a variety of sources and enriches it with other data, such as: pilot and air traffic controller voice recordings, weather data and terrain maps. Storing this data both in the cloud and on-premise, the team has created derived data products.

With flight data, combined with data from hundreds of different surveillance sensors, the team can now create logical “flight stories” for any growing number of specific flights. The derived data products are continually stored to enable historical analyses; the archive of flight stories currently spans more than five years. All of this visibility helps to identify systematic risks across the National Airspace System and develop mitigation measures with airspace users, such as controller training improvements or changes to operational procedures.

What are the challenges faced by the public sector in unlocking the maximum potential of data? How can they overcome those challenges?

The primary challenge for the public sector is balancing the demands of citizens and enterprises in unlocking the potential for data, while putting in place the necessary regulations and contingencies to mitigate risk for citizens and businesses.

Simply put, the pace of technology innovation has continued at a furious rate putting pressure on regulatory measures and with the ever-increasing threat landscape, it is imperative that governments have implemented security measures to protect the data for their citizens and economy at large.

Another key challenge is the acute skills shortage in the ASEAN ICT sector, which is preventing enterprises from rapidly adopting data initiatives.

For both these challenges, partnerships between the public and private sector can play a huge role – not only in outlining and implementing data regulations and identifying security risks, but tapping on the private sectors’ expertise in training and skills development for future generations of data scientists.

In the context of the broader economy, what role can the government play in development of a digital data-driven economy?

In the digital economy, the government must play the dual role of regulator and driver of data initiatives. From an authoritative standpoint, it is critical that the government outlines the regulations for data usage in terms of governance and security to ensure the safety of its citizens and the wider economy. However, this must be done with the view of enabling the data economy – through open data platforms and initiatives, encouraging innovation and application of big data for new services. It is a delicate balance to walk but one that must be achieved to fuel the economies of the future.

What are the implications of privacy protection regulations like GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) or Singapore’s PDPA (Personal Data Protection Act) on the collection, sharing, analysis of data for organisations in the private or public sectors?

We live in an age where data misuse is at an all-time high, but GDPR and Singapore’s PDPA hand significant power back to the consumer. It strengthens the rights of individuals to control their own data. The regulation demands that businesses make their digital operations more consumer-focused and responsive. The penalties for non-compliance to GDPR regulations are substantial and organisations should be putting plans in place to meet the regulations. This can also be seen as an opportunity for businesses to enhance their existing systems by focusing on a comprehensive digital strategy, which fosters innovation while protecting data for citizens and consumers.

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