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The Federal Department of Treasury is considering how it might be able to harness a big data service developed by the CSIRO that will allow it to plug real time social media sentiment analysis into its forecasting and policy models.

According to Treasury chief information officer Peter Alexander a potential trial is on the cards.

Speaking at Cebit’s big data conference in Sydney today Mr Alexander said that it was important organisations distinguish between what amounted to “biggering” of data – which amounted to traditional analysis of ever larger collections of data - and true big data analysis which would involve analysis of a much broader range of often unstructured and external data sources.

He said that for an organisation like Treasury which had the main objective of forecasting in order to inform policy making, it might be possible to get better trending information by bringing into the mix real time retail, crime or traffic statistics. “You start getting better trending based on real time data,” said Mr Alexander.

He said that at present Treasury models were largely based on historical data. Mr Alexander said that it might be possible to make use of sentiment analysis to get better lead indicators that could be used to shape policy direction.

He offered the example of standard of living data: “If we look at sentiment…if the structured data is telling us one thing and the sentiment is telling us something else, we could get a nice lead indicator.”

Mr Alexander said that he did not want to develop an internal search engine, or attempt to index social media himself, but instead believed that there would be services developed that could plug in via an API, such as the CSIRO’s sentiment analysis tools.

CSIRO’s Vizie service has already been trialled by the Department of Human Services to see how it can use the insights in order to provide more targeted information to people. Mr Alexander acknowledged that it was important to pay careful attention to privacy concerns when mining big data for value.

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Beverley Head

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Beverley Head is a Sydney-based freelance writer who specialises in exploring how and why technology changes everything - society, business, government, education, health. Beverley started writing about the business of technology in London in 1983 before moving to Australia in 1986. She was the technology editor of the Financial Review for almost a decade, and then became the newspaper's features editor before embarking on a freelance career, during which time she has written on a broad array of technology related topics for the Sydney Morning Herald, Age, Boss, BRW, Banking Day, Campus Review, Education Review, Insite and Government Technology Review. Beverley holds a degree in Metallurgy and the Science of Materials from Oxford University and a deep affection for things which are shaken not stirred.

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