Unleashing Asean's full potential with data-driven governance

FEBRUARY 07, 2019 - 3:16 PM

THE Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) has a bright future ahead of it.

As shared by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the 33rd Asean Summit, Asean is poised to become the fourth largest economy worldwide by 2030.

This is not surprising as a study by Google and Temasek forecasts the Asean internet economy to exceed US$240 billion by 2025, US$40 billion more than previously expected, due to its booming middle class and rising internet penetration.

However, for Asean to become the next e-commerce gold rush, all 10-member states need to remain committed to good governance.

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Only by ensuring that every country adheres to the agreed-upon common set of rules and norms of good conduct will the region be able to operate across boundaries confidently and securely, to reach its full economic potential as a trade bloc. 

Recognizing this, Asean has identified “strengthening governance by improving transparency in the public sector” as one of the action plans necessary to realize a more responsive, competitive, innovative and dynamic region by 2025. Although leveraging data is one way of improving governance, it does not guarantee success.

Data woes

As the world becomes increasingly connected, it is also generating data at an unprecedented speed.

Case in point: A recent study found that we are currently generating 2.5 quintillion bytes of data per day. But it does not stop there - this figure will continue to grow with the rise of the Internet of Things and as governments continue to digitise their processes and offerings to deliver better services to citizens.

The massive volume of incoming data will present numerous challenges in ensuring good governance if public sector agencies do not have the right tools to manae it. 

Some of those challenges are:

- Limited ability to be responsive

As legacy systems tend to house data in siloed repositories, aggregating data for analysis to get a comprehensive view of an organisation’s operations and its citizens can be a tedious task. Having a fragmented view of its data hinders a public sector agency from identifying which processes require improvements and ensuring its policies and citizen services are responding to
citizen needs.

- Processing inefficiencies

Since data will be generated by various sources, in different formats (ie structured and unstructured) and in huge volumes, it will put a strain on the existing data infrastructure to ingest, process and store them. Unstructured data, for instance, will need to be reformatted to fit the requirements of a traditional database system. This extra step creates latency, resulting in delayed identification of trends or events and mitigation actions.

- Inability to make informed decisions

To ease the strains on traditional systems, organisations might archive or delete data to free up capacity for optimal performance. By making historic data unavailable for analysis, it prevents the organisation from getting accurate insights necessary to make informed mission-critical decisions.

Curing the big data headache

Overcoming big data challenges will require public sector agencies to rearchitect their IT infrastructure to support a new approach to data management.

A key component of the new architecture is a platform that can centralise the massive amount of information found across the organisation. 

With greater visibility into its data, public sector agencies can gain a deeper understanding of their operations and find the best ways to optimise their existing IT infrastructure and reduce operational costs.

The platform should also enable agencies to easily monitor and control their data from a single console, as well as enforce role-based policies to prevent unauthorised access to sensitive data. 

Besides that, the platform needs to integrate disparate data from multiple sources, to allow public sector agencies to apply advanced analytics and machine learning to the unified data.

By doing so, organisations can gain accurate insights to help them make informed decisions in a timely manner and deliver more responsive services to citizens. Additionally, this move can help uncover hidden threats or anomalies at an early stage, thereby preventing fraud, money laundering, terrorist financing or cyber-attacks.

Take the case of Indonesia’s Directorate General of Taxes for example. By using the Cloudera Enterprise platform, the government agency managed to reduce the time it takes to process data from four days to less than one minute. Armed with accurate insights in real time, the agency is now able to identify 30,000 suspected tax evaders in a week, instead of 100 to 200 alleged tax evaders per year. By combatting tax evasion this way, the agency could potentially obtain an additional one trillion rupiah (S$96,952,700) in tax money, while increasing the citizen’s trust in the government institution.

Data is often said to be the new oil. This spells good news for the public sector as it is usually data-rich, especially as it digitises its operations.

When used effectively, data can help enhance governance by enabling public sector agencies to better detect fraud, prevent abuse of scarce government resources, and develop policies and services that are aligned with citizen needs.

A modern platform designed to manage large volumes of diverse data effectively is therefore necessary to allow data to provide those strategic values to the public sector in Asean, which ultimately enables the region to confidently seize cross-border opportunities and realise its full economic potential.

The author is the vice president of Asia Pacific and Japan at Cloudera.