Data is increasingly being used by governments across the world to deliver more effective, efficient services. But how is data being collected and used?

Many agencies have released publicly available datasets to increase the transparency and value of the data they collect. The Singapore Tourism Board’s open data platform, STAN, for instance, has allowed the public and businesses to analyse the latest tourism data.

Waka Kotahi, New Zealand’s transport agency, is doing the same. It’s turning to interactive dashboards to make data publicly available and improve its usability. Data and visualisation experts from the agency share how they partnered with Qlik to build these dashboards, and discuss some of their open data plans.

Enabling self-service data through dashboards

Waka Kotahi works alongside councils and other approved organisations to fund New Zealand’s transport system via a three-year investment package, the National Land Transport Programme (NLTP).

This ensures the transport system is safe, accessible, efficient, and connected for all customers who use it.

The Waka Kotahi Business Intelligence Information Products Team built a dashboard that helps their partners keep track of all funding that has been approved and claimed to date. Partners can also find out approval times for funding requests.

The dashboard is user-friendly and interactive, allowing users to filter results by region, organisation, activity class, work category, and more. Anyone interested in this information can access it – not just a small number of pre-approved organisations.

Before this dashboard was built, the organisation had a manual process for sharing this information with its partners, says Paul Steyn, Waka Kotahi’s Business Intelligence Architect.

The dashboard now gives users easy access to data on the programme and gives better visibility of organisations that apply for funding.

This project involved a lot of teams and carrying it out was like a “complicated ballet”, says Aimee Whitcroft, Waka Kotahi’s Open Data Lead. Everyone had to be on the same page.

But after the dashboard was built, people were excited by the possibilities that lay ahead, Steyn says. There is talk of expanding the dashboard to include budgeting, for example, and the project team got a lot of “enthusiasm” and support from various councils.

Reducing manual work

Another successful public dashboard built by Waka Kotahi is their motor vehicle registration dashboard, which contains information on vehicles registered in New Zealand.

For decades, Waka Kotahi had been depending on specific people to release this data to industry partners like insurers and policymakers, says Steyn.

The work involved generating over 400 reports and sending them out to over 150 email addresses every month, which took a lot of time and effort, says Catriona O’Neill, Manager of the Information Products Team. The production of the reports also relied on staff that knew specialised processes and databases in detail.

The new dashboards shows all vehicles registered in New Zealand for the first time, and a subset of re-registered vehicles. It enables about 40 reports to be generated automatically to partners such as the Motor Industry Association, motor vehicle dealers, car rental companies, banks, consultancies and journalists.

Whitcroft’s team ensures that each external-facing dashboard clearly explains what data users are looking at, and what it means and does. The team has also released user guides with each dashboard and offered training sessions, she says.

Creating these dashboards has enabled the organisation to offer improved self-service data, according to O’Neill. Staff and external users are now empowered to answer queries themselves instead of approaching the data experts or going to the source database, saving a lot of time and effort.

Making it easy to use data

Waka Kotahi also partners with Qlik to build some of its internal data applications. Prior to building these applications, it was “very difficult” for staff to access data they needed, says O’Neill.

The applications place data into the staff’s hands in a “very user-friendly, interactive, and visual way”, she adds.

The dashboards make it a lot easier for non-data experts to use data, says Whitcroft. It also helps to ensure that there was a “single source of truth” and that data is analysed correctly.

Users can also download data from the dashboards, enabling them to carry out their own analyses to further add value.

For their Open Data work, Waka Kotahi recently took home the gold award for “Smart Use of Public Data” at Qlik’s Australia and New Zealand Health & Public Sector Digital Transformation Awards 2021.

The analytics momentum is building within the agency. Using data to make a difference to New Zealand’s transport system and people’s lives is a “profound and great privilege”, Whitcroft says.

You can find view the Waka Kotahi open data dashboards at https://opendata-nzta.opendata.arcgis.com/search?q=dashboard.