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Data61: delivering on the data revolution

Data61 is a CSIRO research unit established in July 2016 to capitalise on the data revolution and ensure Australia is at the forefront of open data. It’s an essential initiative and I’m watching it with great interest!

Alfred D 31 March 2017

What is Data61?

Data61 is a new research unit established in the CSIRO in July 2016. It was formed by a merger between National ICT Australia (NICTA) and CSIRO’s digital research unit. Under the National Innovation and Science Agenda the government has committed $75 million to Data61.

Data61 has over 1,100 staff members, including over 400 resident PhD students, working in 14 offices in NSW, ACT, QLD, VIC, TAS and WA. Its network extends across 14 incubators, 29 university partners, over 90 corporate partners and all areas of government.

This is an exciting initiative that has a lot of power to make a difference in Australia.

The vision

Data61 was established to capitalise on the data revolution, an area the National Innovation and Science Agenda sees will affect all almost every industry and government function. It’s certainly an area that I see being instrumental in accelerating the government’s open data movement.

Data61’s Future Science Vision says: “Our research is undertaken with a purpose in mind — to create a positive data-driven future.”

The vision document (a 20-page PDF) talks about Data61’s two complementary roles:

  1. Market-driven research that solves problems in CSIRO’s other business units and in the broader community.

  2. “…fundamental research advancing the science and technology of data.”

Within this framework there are four overarching goals:

  1. Measuring the world– improving the whole lifecycle of data capture analysis and use.

  2. Delivering trustworthy analytics– changing the way analytics is delivered; guaranteeing trust in the entire process.

  3. Building software you can trust– creating technologies that allow the construction of software that can be trusted.

  4. Shaping societal transformations– developing better data technologies through improved understanding of their potential social impact.”

Data’s application

The Data61 website and the Future Science Vision document talk about the reach of data and the research unit. It’s not just about IT, rather data is used across a massive range of sectors, from economics to physics to the natural world. Data61 describes this as an anti-disciplinary approach. Rather than thinking in the silos of disciplines, Data61 aims for the bigger picture. “Data61’s focus is on the advancement of technologies for data in a manner that provides national benefit (economic, social and environmental).”

I think it’s interesting that this correlates with the government’s need to move away from silos and into a more holistic approach when delivering citizen-centric digital applications, especially for service unification online.

Active not passive

The Future Science Vision makes an interesting point about data and the way we capture and view it. The document calls out the need to move away from passive collection of data. Rather, they talk about the need to “take the data—to actively select and gather it, and then, of course, to dosomething with it.”

Many organisations (government and private) have been collecting data for years and doing little or nothing with it, so this is a key differentiation in terms of approach.

Market-driven focus

Part of Data61’s vision is to work on market-driven projects that complement the science and research of data. In this way, Data61 can deliver tangible benefits — an appealing and necessary outcome.

They list nine main market focus areas:

  • Safety and security

  • Health and communities

  • Future cities

  • IoT/industrial internet

  • Agri-business

  • Spatial intelligence

  • Data-driven government

  • Enterprise services and financial technology

  • Defence

As you can see, these areas are issues that affect us all.

In addition, the impacts of Data61 will also address six CSIRO focal points:

  • Food security and quality

  • Clean energy and resources

  • Health and wellbeing

  • Conservation and the use of our natural environment

  • Innovative industries

  • A safer Australia

Another list of impacts well worth getting behind!

Data61 and government

To date, Data61’s collaboration with government has been across all levels — national, state and local.

Nationally, Data61 worked with government to develop the Australian Government’s NationalMap and is currently working with Treasury on blockchain technology for Bitcoin digital currency.

At the state level, Data61 has worked with NSW Roads and Maritime Services (monitoring the structural health of the Sydney Harbour Bridge) and the Victorian Government (on cybersecurity).

Data61 has also worked with the City of Port Phillip, in conjunction with Monash University, developing My Climate, an online tool that uses data so residents can assess the sustainability of their houses.

The future of open data

Open data is something that we’ve been following with great interest over the past year and especially within the last three months given Salsa Digital’s recent appointment as managed service provider for the Victorian Government’s Open Data Platform ( I think Data61’s overarching approach (and its existence!) is particularly important in light of the Productivity Commission’s draft report Data Availability and Use released in November last year — which we blogged about in our Digital Transformation in Government blog titled The power of open data.

I love the principles open data and open government represent: participation, collaboration and transparency. Ultimately, the more open data is shared, the greater value it creates for citizens. We continue to watch the good work Data61 is doing to deliver on the potential of open data.

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