Where do we need to focus our attention in data?

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Capturing the value of data

Government and businesses are generating and storing huge volumes of data. Treating data as an asset: using it; valuing it; and protecting it appropriately, could drive significant economic and social benefits for Australia.

Data is the “oil” of the modern economy and a critical enabler of digital innovation. Action is needed to increase access to data assets, including access to spatial data, build public trust in the use and management of data, and to build a versatile data science workforce for private and public growth sectors.

While information-rich companies are trading off the data they are collecting from consumers, they are not able to include the value of that data on their balance sheet. Australia needs to develop ways of accounting for data as an asset of a business. This is particularly important for companies seeking investors to help them grow their business. Measuring the value of the data and considering who owns the data are significant issues that countries around the world are grappling with.

Enhancing access to data

Substantial value can be extracted from data assets, however in order to do so they need to be discoverable, accessible, and of high quality. Enhancing access to data has been identified as a top five priority for the digital economy across OECD countries, and its importance is expected to increase in the next five years.

Managing privacy and security

As the use of data expands, trust is critical. For the most part, this trust relies on confidence in those collecting, securing and using this data, and the regulatory systems around them.

Governments businesses and organisations need to build trust through improved transparency, accountability and building in privacy and security safeguards from the outset when designing new services.

Businesses are increasingly focused on data trust issues as they understand the potential damage to their market share and reputation if they get this wrong, as demonstrated by the recent Facebook - Cambridge Analytica scandal.

Data from the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC) indicates that 58 per cent of Australians avoid dealing with a business if they have privacy concerns about that business.

We all need to ensure adequate protections for personal data are in place while enabling the use of data to drive growth, productivity, and benefits for society. Access to data underpins many beneficial technology solutions including:

  • precision health solutions that are tailored to individual genetics
  • connected devices that monitor a person’s health and notify health practitioners or family members if needed
  • online counselling and therapeutic services for people with mental health issues
  • tailored educational options that can guide a person through the material at their own pace in an online environment
  • increased safety through better management of emergency response situations including floods and bushfires.

The processes around seeking permission for sharing data need to be clear, transparent and nuanced. People are more likely to share their data if there is a clear benefit - whether this be a personal benefit or a benefit to society more broadly.

There is an important distinction between sharing data that allows an individual to be personally identified and data that it is de-identified and cannot be traced back to an individual. Improving clarity through public communications on this distinction will be important to encourage consent for useful data sharing. This will help governments and businesses to deliver the greatest data-driven products and services to Australians.

Removing unhelpful barriers

The Productivity Commission Inquiry Report into Data Availability and Use found a number of cultural, legislative and technical barriers to data sharing – including over 500 secrecy provisions restricting the sharing of public sector data.

Standards and regulations for data collection, sharing and use vary across jurisdictions. Different rules can prevent businesses and government from innovating.

Governments need to reduce unnecessary regulatory barriers to data sharing in a responsible and safe way, and address the barriers to industry, businesses and the community in sharing their own data, while maintaining appropriate privacy provisions for identifiable data.

Addressing capability gaps at all levels

Having people with the right skills in data science is a challenge. Australia needs to build expertise at all levels, from small business owners wanting to analyse their customer data to researchers identifying new ways to treat diseases.

At the moment, less than half of Australian businesses are using their data resources in marketing, or the design of new goods and services. Given the significant opportunities for businesses to use data to grow and improve, any barriers to accessing and using this data, including capability, need to be addressed.

There’s a growing demand for data skills and global competition is rising. If Australia doesn’t increase its skills in this area, businesses may miss out on opportunities for innovation and growth, or may take their potential overseas.