Ministry touts personal IDs

A data warehouse at the core of the Ministry of Social Policy's Information Analysis Platform (IAP) is likely to need personal identity numbers to deliver best-quality information.

A data warehouse at the core of the Ministry of Social Policy's Information Analysis Platform (IAP) is likely to need personal identify numbers to deliver best-quality information.

The IAP is a bank of information and analysis tools that provides four government departments – Ministry of Social Policy, Health, Education and Housing - with a common platform to share and co-operatively analyse information from a data warehouse. Sixteen other departments access the system on a read-only basis, but only the four core departments contribute data.

“You can’t get consistent data out [of a warehouse with contributions by several parties] unless you identify the individual,” says the Ministry of Social Policy's IT manager, Neil Miranda.

Miranda was speaking at a session on IAP at the SAS users’ conference in Queesnstown last week. The sessions was led by ministry head Margaret Bazley.

The topic reignited the perennial debate over unique numeric identifiers for each citizen; something many New Zealanders – and obviously several at the conference - view with concern. The debate is a negative one, says Bazley. The identifier is seen as a threat to privacy, but could more positively be regarded as a means by which a customer could access the service in future.

The IAP warehouse, which is implemented with SAS software on a Sun system, does not keep data in aggregated form, as many do; it records every transaction for every individual. Policy changes over time might mean that any aggregation originally decided on might become obsolete under a new policy, so it is vital to have access to the new data.

Since the system carries an individual record of each transaction, the analysis software can build time-lines of a particular customer’s interaction with the government departments over a period. IAP is a recognition that departments such as the four above often deal with the same people, suffering a set of interlinked problems, Bazley says.

Bazley claims a start towards the Holy Grail of “e-government” with the IAP. The project is a demonstration of the value of having consistent data-handling and presentation across several departments, rather than having a different computer system in each department, she says. Such cross-departmental information in the health and welfare fields will be of great help in exercises like the “Closing the Gaps” project, currently under way.

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