Time to apply big data analytics

As Parliament debates the 2018 Budget, it is timely to ask why there is no variance analysis of the 2017 actual expenditures versus the 2017 Budget.

This is a very basic management practice in many corporations and a critical tool in financial audits.

Perhaps this can be a priority project: the accountability of how public funds are actually spent.

To date, the focus has always been on the Budget itself. Such an approach has been suspected of encouraging spending simply because the budget has been allocated.

Sophisticated accounting tools have been available for the longest time. For instance, business dashboards are common management information tools used to track key performance indicators and other key data points relevant to any business or department.

Dashboards use data visualisations to simplify complex data sets to facilitate quick assessments and checks.

There is really no excuse for not leveraging existing and new tools to provide full accountability of both budgeted and actual expenditure numbers of taxpayer money.

Naysayers may think it is impossible to do this on a country level. They only need to look at the California state controller's site at https://bythenumbers.sco.ca.gov/ to be persuaded otherwise.

California is only a state in America but its 2015-2016 revenues of US$78 billion (S$103 billion) and actual expenditures of US$74 billion are bigger numbers than the $89 billion expenditure planned for the 2018 Singapore Budget. It can be done, if there is a will to do so.

The California site is based on the open data concept, defined by the site as "online data that anyone can access, use and share... to encourage users to review, compare, visualise and analyse data and share their discoveries in real time... and has the potential to help the public identify wasteful spending and increase government efficiency as well as promote community involvement and improve California's business climate".

Such admirable objectives in themselves are enough for Singapore to emulate and adopt the open data concept.

Christie Loh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 03, 2018, with the headline 'Time to apply big data analytics'. Print Edition | Subscribe