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Home Government Tech Policy Show me the data, says NICTA

Show me the data, says NICTA

NICTA’s CEO has told the Productivity Commission that the success of Australia’s major infrastructure projects rests on ubiquitous access to critical datasets.

Speaking at a Productivity Commission hearing into public infrastructure investment, NICTA (National ICT Australia) CEO Hugh Durrant-Whyte said that open access to government and industry data will be ‘transformational’ for our major infrastructure projects.

Responding to a question from Productivity Commissioner Peter Harris about whether the infrastructure industry should copy the practice of the resources exploration industry to make all data available online, Professor Durrant-Whyte said such a move would revolutionise the way infrastructure projects are planned and implemented.

“I have a strong background in mining and am very familiar with the productivity improvements that have been made in that sector,” Durrant-Whyte said. “Making all the relevant data freely available would not only change the way we approach large infrastructure projects, it would also make larger supply chain planning possible.”

He said this is particularly crucial as Australian governments look to accelerate infrastructure investment over the next five years in the midst of tough budget environments.

As an example Professor Durrant-Whyte said there would be many positive flow-on effects for cities if decisions about freeway and airport construction were data-based. “Coordinating the traffic to and from the CBD or airport, anticipating passenger queues so there are enough taxis on hand when planes land, ensuring road and rail freight don’t create unnecessary bottlenecks by properly coordinating movements to and from the port are some of the expected benefits,” he said.

“The data is out there. It just needs to be made available, preferably to everyone. Opening up data by making it available in a ‘Kaggle’¹ type of way also means in the future you may have a student coming up with the best design to build a new bridge or new freeway or alternatively, try something completely different.”

(Kaggle is a crowdsourcing platform for large predictive modelling and analytics.)

Professor Durrant-Whyte also supported the suggestions in the draft report to increase transparency in the concept planning stage. “There needs to be an incentive for planners, investors and builders to create the best infrastructure for the community, and not just spend money. There is often no real incentive for savings.

“If savings can be made, there is often no readily identified ‘owner’ of those savings, so that needs to be given more thought. If public money can be saved, particularly the large amounts outlaid in infrastructure costs; this could result in more funds for other things.”

NICTA’s submission to Productivity Commission argued for the inclusion of ICT in the design, construction and operation of public infrastructure, which it said would ease the burden of unnecessary ‘concrete pouring’ on the public purse,and ensure that as infrastructure ages, it will continue to deliver maximum benefit to users.

“Banking, telecommunications and services sectors have been maximising their productivity with ICT for years, but major public infrastructure projects continue to leave ICT out of their equations,” said Professor Durrant-Whyte. “To be more efficient, infrastructure projects need more ICT applied to them, not more concrete.”

He said technological advances over the last few years have created a fundamental shift in how infrastructure should be planned for, built and maintained in the future. “New data analytics and optimisation techniques, for example, can now provide unprecedented insight into major projects at critical points.

“NICTA believes public infrastructure investment can be better informed, funded, designed, constructed and operated by using smart ICT – which leads to better value for governments, business and taxpayers and greater productivity from the assets themselves. Smart ICT can also optimise the use of existing infrastructure and enable better decision-making about which new infrastructure to invest in the future.”

Areas where NICTA has demonstrated the value of ICT in improving the efficiency of infrastructure include Port Botany, where NICTA demonstrated that an upgrade to the rail system could be delayed by using an optimised freight movement schedule.

NICTA’s proposal to the Productivity Commission recommends that the use of smart ICT be integrated into all aspects of the public infrastructure investment process: planning, design, development and operations. It says that Infrastructure Australia evaluation criteria for projects should also include consideration of how smart ICT can be used to optimise productivity in this process.

NICTA’s full submission to the Productivity Commission is at http://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/infrastructure/submissionshttp://www.pc.gov.au/projects/inquiry/infrastructure/submissions.

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Graeme Philipson

Graeme Philipson is senior associate editor at iTWire and editor of sister publication CommsWire. He is also founder and Research Director of Connection Research, a market research and analysis firm specialising in the convergence of sustainable, digital and environmental technologies. He has been in the high tech industry for more than 30 years, most of that time as a market researcher, analyst and journalist. He was founding editor of MIS magazine, and is a former editor of Computerworld Australia. He was a research director for Gartner Asia Pacific and research manager for the Yankee Group Australia. He was a long time IT columnist in The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald, and is a recipient of the Kester Award for lifetime achievement in IT journalism.