Tell us about the journey to your current role and what this role entails.
I had an unusual path to my role in data and analytics. I graduated with BA/BSc (Hons) majoring in physics and astronomy and then spent more than 10 years in commercial strategy consulting, where I advised public and private sector companies in a range of industries. While there I continued my studies with a Graduate Diploma in Applied Finance and a Master of Public Policy.
Im now Director of the ACCCs Strategic Data Analysis Unit (SDAU). The Unit provides expert data and analytics advice to the agency and is also responsible for data governance. Our data analytics inform merger decisions, competition and enforcement actions, product safety activities, infrastructure regulation and build intelligence to guide market studies.
I joined the ACCC in 2015, and this allowed me to bring together my strategy, analytics, public policy and commercial experience. I established the Strategic Data Analysis Unit in 2017 and we are now a team of 12. I really enjoy the immense variety of work in my role and the tangible ways it benefits consumers and the economy more broadly. Some of my teams highest-profile recent matters include the Retail Electricity Price Inquiry, the Dairy Inquiry and the Digital Platforms Inquiry, which investigated the impact Google and Facebook have had on Australian media and advertising.
Can you describe a project you are working on or recently completed?
SDAU supports all parts of the ACCC, and the ACCCs remit is huge. It covers competition, regulation of monopoly infrastructure, product safety, enforcement and consumer protection, and SDAU can get involved in any aspect of that.
Recently weve been assisting with some big mergers and also consumer enforcement cases particularly those that involve the analysis of algorithms.
One of the product safety projects weve been working on is the massive Takata airbag recall. Its the worlds largest automotive recall, affecting an estimated 100 million vehicles. In Australia there are four million affected airbags in three million vehicles, and there have been 26 deaths and 300 injuries worldwide, and one death and one serious injury in Australia.
My team has been helping the Takata Taskforce on the analysis of the recalls progress and the targeting of recall efforts to those people and communities who arent responding to the recall as we would hope.
Manufacturers provide information monthly, and we receive about four million rows of data every month. Some of our risk analysis has involved taking the remediation rate and analysing that on a postcode by postcode basis. The data we get is de-identified, but we do have the postcode. So we look at the remediation rate every month across different postcodes, but then we can add in other risk factors associated with each postcode. For example, heat and humidity make these airbags more dangerous, so we have overlaid information from the Bureau of Meteorology on the remediation rates to see which postcodes are more at risk. Then weve overlaid additional demographic risk factors; for example sometimes the people affected are less able to respond to the recall, so the ACCCs outreach officers can go out and talk to those communities and assist. The ACCC is also supporting recall effectiveness research via collaboration with the OECD and with ANU.
What did you learn from this project? What did it achieve?
It was a real collaborative effort between the Takata outreach team, my team and our Strategic Communications people, who assisted with the communications to the affected areas. The team effort was a credit to the ACCC.
On the technical side weve done a lot of mapping in R to do this, and that visual representation of four million rows of data a month makes the data accessible to staff but also the communities that were talking to. Our outreach officers actually take our maps out on laptops and show them to affected communities and say, This is how many affected airbags are still in your community. So, at a very real level, its helping to save lives.
What excites you most about the future?
Data and analytics are becoming an ever-growing part of how companies in our economy do business. The ACCC needs to have those same skills to effectively regulate and fulfil our role. So we in SDAU are constantly learning new techniques. Were constantly thinking about new ways of analysing data and doing new analytics. We also liaise with our international counterparts to share ideas about these approaches. The ACCC sees data-informed decision making as important, so I can only see that our role and that of our colleagues is going to continue to be important.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to further their career in government, what would it be?
I would say that if youre coming in from outside the public sector, its really important to understand the language, the norms and the levels around recruitment to give yourself the best chance to show your skills off.
Where do you look to for further education? E.g. articles, podcasts, news sources, online courses, university etc.?
Within SDAU I have three people who are currently doing Master of Data Science programs at different universities. We have also used MOOCs at times, and our people at different times have used DataCamp courses to further their skills. SDAU staff members have really diverse professional backgrounds. We learn a lot from each other, and by building each others skills. I also read widely and listen to podcasts.
What are you most looking forward to at the event?
Im looking forward to meeting other people working in the data and analytics space. Theres always something new to learn, and I hope that I can share a bit about the ACCCs experience with setting up a data and analytics unit.