How big data is changing policy making

How big data is changing policy making

Big data is rapidly becoming the cornerstone for major decision-making for businesses and governments.

Data can give valuable insights into a broad array of fields and has enormous potential to create economic growth and improve the quality of life for citizens.

And as Australia’s population is projected to grow by 37% in the next 15 years to 30.5 million people, making the right decisions about infrastructure and services is vital.

But what exactly is big data and how can it be used to shape policy and legislation? In this blog post, we’re looking at two areas where big data is having a transformative effect.

What is big data?

The sophistication and development of new technologies — sensors, cameras, mobile devices — have created what the PwC report Big Data: Big benefits and imperiled privacy calls ‘an unprecedented amount of data’. This ‘unprecedented’ amount of data equates to 2.5 quintillion bytes of data daily according to IBM. We now create so much of it every day, that 90% of our available data was created in the last 2 years.


There are many exciting developments in the field of healthcare that could have an enormous impact on the prevention and treatment of disease. These developments are vital because we are entering a future of an aging population which will put enormous pressure on resources, not just medical and aged care resources, but it could strain the quality of living for future Australians.

A report commissioned by the Federal Treasury: Australia’s Demographic Challenges, demonstrates just how dire the situation will be suggesting that:

‘Over the next 40 years, the proportion of the population aged over 65 years will almost double to around 25 per cent. At the same time, growth in the population of traditional workforce age – 15 to 64 – is expected to slow to almost zero.’

With this in mind, there has been much focus from enterprise and governments on how to overcome the problems this shift will cause.

One area that has attracted attention is the prevention of chronic disease with the use of big data. One of the more recent developments is the Federal Government’s introduction of eHealth, hailed as potentially the most important revolution in healthcare since the advent of modern medicine. eHealth is a database where all a patient’s data is kept. The ease with which practitioners and patients will be able to access their data will be transformative, particularly for regional patients.

Having access to datasets will also be invaluable in detecting broader trends in healthcare. Having millions of patient records will allow practitioners to detect broader health patterns, which will allow them to be proactive in determining a course of action. While this won’t allow citizens to be proactive in guarding themselves against contagious seasonal diseases, it could unlock previously undetected patterns in genetic diseases, allergies and chronic health problems like obesity and heart disease.

Newer technologies are also becoming so intuitive, that they enable people to analyse their own data and take actions on their own health. For example, a fertility device like the Kindara generate large amounts of personal data that give you insights about your body. Many women who are using it, will take out their phone at the doctors, because the insights that this data generates can be enormously valuable in diagnosing fertility issues and broader health issues.


A growing population needs a functioning transportation system to support it. Not only will big data help lower traffic pollution, but according to Autodesk industry strategist Dominic Thasarathar it could save governments billions of dollars a year by ‘making more of existing infrastructure through improved demand management and maintenance’.

A great example of this is the work Brazil is doing to mitigate aviation traffic which is projected to double in the next 15 years. The McKinsey report big data versus big congestion states  that Brazil is introducing a sophisticated GPS tracking system to make the most efficient use of air space.

‘The usual practice has been to line up planes preparing to land in an airborne queue. Under the new system, each plane is assigned its own flight path. It may sound simple, but making the system work requires enormous amounts of data, as well as fast and sophisticated evaluation of the data. The distance, speed, and capabilities of each aircraft are processed in a way that results in the shortest flight path. Instead of queuing up on approach, planes can “curve in” much closer to the airport.’

As a result of this, the major the  Brasília International Airport saves:

  • 7.5 minutes per landing
  • 22 gallons of fuel per landing
  • 22 nautical miles per flight

Given the success of this initiative Brazil is planning to roll the system out to 10 other airports. It is estimated that they will be able to increase their capacity from ‘16% to 59% depending on conditions.

These are just two of many examples showing how big data insights can drive efficiencies and resolve societal challenges for decades to come. It is the remit of governments to ensure that their policies and their legislation makes the best use of the data, while balancing the privacy rights of their citizens.

The CeBIT Australia 2017 program is out! You can view the eGovernment program here.