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Bill English: Data analytics gets top seat at government table

Divina Paredes | Feb. 23, 2015
Analytics now an intrinsic part of policy making, the deputy prime minister said at the SUNZ (SAS Users New Zealand) conference.

Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Bill English yesterday stressed the government's stronger focus to harness data analytics in framing public policy, particularly in allocation of resources.

Data and analytics are now an intrinsic part of policy making, said English who delivered the closing keynote at SUNZ (SAS Users of New Zealand) conference this week in Wellington.

"Your technical capacity is going to be in the front end of changing how government works," English said in front of more than 300 public and private sector executives, analysts and data experts.

"Policy without using these tools won't mean much to us, because our policy is getting better results for customers.

"We are taking this seriously enough to build this into the process in a way that has not been done before."

"There is a pretty serious purpose behind that," he said. "We have a government that wants to focus more on its customers and results for its customers."

English said he used the word "customers" deliberately to refer to the public.

"There is no reason we should treat someone who is applying for a licence differently from someone who is applying for a benefit, where the former is a customer and the latter is a client or another subgroup," he said.

"Think of these as people whose business you could potentially lose," he said. "That is a radical idea in public service."

Technology is delivering ubiquitous information, and the more information and more analysis of it is going to change the culture in government, he said.

"We can choose to approach this in a front foot driven by getting better results to customers and delivering it sooner in a more organised and more focused way."

He said this is the choice the government is making, and it is an "affirmative" way rather than being out of touch with the public and then making "chaotic changes out of pressure".

His keynote expanded on the message of Paula Bennett, Minister for Social Development, in last year's conference.

Bennett highlighted the role data analytics played in reducing the number of people on welfare, and deciding which programs to target vulnerable citizens, especially children.

"Without using data analytics, we will be throwing a lot of money," she said. "We will not be getting into the heart of the problem, we will not be putting resources and investment where these are needed."


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