Filling the data lake
Roads, rates and rubbish. It's a hoary old phrase used by people on just about every occasion to describe what their local councils should really be about. And it’s true, mostly. The responsibilities of councils stretch across much of public policy and increasingly involve activities that, strictly speaking, should remain the preserve of the state and federal governments. Think of services to do with health, education, environmental protection and the like.
But local communities remain of the view their council is there for the basics. Well, what if the basics consisted of roads, rates, rubbish and… data?
For councils, the beauty of having up-to-date, validated data embedded in their everyday operations is that it reveals more options in how they could go about the job of meeting the challenges their local communities face. Some of these options may turn out to be cheaper, more effective or faster than the way the job is currently done.
In other words, you don’t know what you don’t know, right? Well, data can fix that. It could help gain insights into the true cost of water treatment and supply and a greater understanding of factors that influence water quality and cost fluctuations to optimise efficiency and effectiveness of water treatment.
Or it could identify trends, patterns and causes that impact the prevalence of complaint calls about barking dogs (a bugbear of all local governments) allowing councils to develop predictive modelling, effective planning and efficient management of resources.
With such data, councils will be better equipped to reduce risk, implement mitigation strategies and improve community satisfaction and safety.
Then there are the uses to which data could be put in areas like fleet usage to improve decision-making on how best to invest, maintain, operate and ultimately retire vehicles, and manage overall risk to usage.
Through predicting asset usage needs and forecasting the associated costs, councils could optimise small, large and plant vehicle costs while managing risk to usage and continuity of service.
The LGAQ is working with certain councils on pilot programs that should show the way for the entire sector to unlock the potential of the data they hold.
This is the work that the LGAQ has dubbed LG Sherlock, a service designed to help councils gain quick and easy access to the information they need to improve the services they offer their communities.
Sherlock will take data inputted by councils and other organisations, store and analyse it, and then use it to produce insights to help those councils reduce running costs and better manage risks well into the future.
Ipswich City Council city digital officer Matthew Shultz outlined why his council was keen to participate in LG Sherlock’s pilot program.
“The insights that can be generated from data is becoming increasingly important – it’s what visitors, ratepayers and local business expect from a council,” Matthew said.
“Communities are developing a greater understanding of the value of increased access to information and technology and expect that information to be utilised to provide better value-for-money services to the community.
“We joined the Sherlock pilot because we wanted to explore what additional data analytics capabilities can do for the City of Ipswich and whether there are better ways and means to capture, analyse and visualise data."
LG Sherlock is expected to be fully operational from early 2018, when the LGAQ will begin working with other councils to help them access the service too.
Expert data scientists will support councils to securely upload some or all of their data to the ‘data lake’, which they can access through an online portal, allowing them to search, compare and filter a range of data.
Some of this data will be only available to specific councils, while other data will be open for all councils to see. The Sherlock team will also work with other tiers of government and non-government organisations to upload their data, to make sure they have the most comprehensive pool of information possible.