Open Data: what government data is available?

March 17, 2017
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In an increasingly connected world, data has become the new oil. We are producing vast volumes of data, but greater insights come from mining linked data sets. For business, the question is what additional insights can be gained about customers, market and economic conditions, by having access to government data. What government sets are currently available, what are the different approaches to open data across government and how can government and business collaborate better around data exchanges? This theme was explored at our Business and Government Data Exchange Workshop hosted by Deloitte, as part of our Digital and Tech Programme.

The workshop was a vibrant discussion with government and business on what data sets and technologies would add value to each other’s operations, and what interactions and co-ordination would be required to create an effective ongoing partnership. The session started with an overview from the three tiers of government. Shirley Robinson, working with National Treasury and SARS, and a key part of government’s Data Technical Working Group, highlighted the value of metros, particularly the five largest in South Africa. As company data reflects all jobs at head offices and not at branches, Shirley said that they were struggling to obtain a clear picture with regards to companies and job locations, as well as how people travel to work. She highlighted that cities are keen to undertake accurate evidence-based, spatial economic development planning and investments and that value can be gained from understanding mobile phone data for daily movement of people, and PAYE data can be used to determine job locations by branches. The shift is towards using anonymised administrative data to complement survey data for statistical analysis, however surveys are expensive for government. Shirley stressed the need for collective action and partnership and welcomed collaboration with business.

Next, we heard from Zeenat Ishmail, the WC Government’s Chief Director: Strategic Management Information. Zeenat highlighted the provincial data governance project as a key enabler to business intelligence, its purpose is to understand data ranging from economic to human settlements data. She said that there is a high demand for data, but data quality and data sharing is an issue. Zeenat was followed by Keith Smith, Director: Information and Knowledge Management and Neil Hoorn, Project Manager of the Open Data Portal at the City of Cape Town. The City of Cape Town launched their Open Data Portal in 2015 and currently has 86 data sets with additional datasets available upon request. These data sets cover elements such as mapping the urban edge, air quality and budgets, amongst others. The portal averages 1100 downloads per month, with “tenders awarded” being the most downloaded. The City is looking at how they link to bigger datasets and encourage a culture of data sharing.

Businesses input into the discussion was firstly to understand the legal implications of data sharing, as we heard from Alexia Christie, Technology, Media, Telecommunications and IP Lawyer at Webber Wentzel. Alexia highlighted that numerous acts and legislation cover data: POPI, PAIA, KING IV, National Health Act, Nation Credit Act, Secrecy Bill, Cyber Bill, amongst others. She said that POPI only covers personal information and the onus is on the ‘responsible party’ to not share information that can identify a person or entity. Government departments are seen as separate entities, so this also applies to G2G sharing of data. She said that there are issues with the Promotion of Access of Information Act and it is not an effective tool.

Ryan Schefermann, of Deloitte, then highlighted that global market dynamics are causing mass disruption across industries and business needs to disrupt or be disrupted. Data is becoming a vital differentiator, but are businesses capitalising on this and do they see it as a strategic asset to drive shareholder value. He highlighted how data could impact on current business processes and stressed again the opportunity for the public and private sector to collaborate. He said that South Africa’s challenges were that there is a reticence of sharing data, and we do not have enough data analytics skills.

Here are the outcomes of the workshop including a response by the City of Cape Town and the Data Technical Working Groups on available data sets – B2G Data Exchange Workshop Report as well as a data sources compiled by ERLN. We will continue engagement with the three tiers of government to get to more optimal sharing of data between business and government.

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