Go to top of page
Kayelle Drinkwater

Getting to know our Data Leaders: Kayelle Drinkwater

Edition: 1

In this edition of Getting to know our APS Data Leaders, Kayelle Drinkwater shares her journey with data and the path that has led to her current role as General Manager of Data and Policy Design Branch at Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources. Kayelle also covers some of the work her team is delivering and shares insights on what she sees to be big changes still to come with data in Australia.

In 2020, it is hard to imagine an Australia without most people using data every day. We rely on our devices for updates on COVID, bushfires or other emergencies, and for transport options, location or services we receive. All underpinned by data with no one having to be conscious of the data, or a data scientist to use it.

I first became interested in data and how powerful it could be, when I was asked to do some benchmarking of my small organisation against other similar organisations. I didn’t have my own computer at work, nor a tool to work it out for me, and it was the first time I had done benchmarking.

I did my first time series, compared trends, outliers, seasonal affect, correlation and causation. I was using foundational data literacy and data management skills, although I didn’t know it at the time. The data was all in paper form, retrospective and not dynamic in anyway. It sounds practically prehistoric by comparison to today’s current data capabilities and tools.

Two things came from this. I realised I was more interested in what the data could tell you, or the story it told; and if we could make changes or interventions earlier with our clients, at the point in time the data started to change, we would achieve a better outcome and make a difference. I also needed to change my career path and do more of this type of work. Today, I still use data in this way and, it motivates me in the public service about the difference it can make to Australians.

Early in my APS career I started to use data every day to improve access to health care for Australians. This improved my data literacy and analysis. I also learnt it was important to be able to explain what was happening and why, in non-technical terms to a wide ranging audience, including Ministers. On-the-job learning with data is a quick way to upskill.

I quickly realised that once you were working with large data sets that covered most of the population (it was a bit frightening at first), you needed it be automated in some way. I also found out that there were usually data quality issues to overcome as part of the data preparation. This piqued my interest in the importance of high-quality data that was fit for purpose at the point of ingestion, and modelling the data or how the data was flowing across the data life cycle as well as, the need to learn new data skills. If you are working with data every day and looking to increase your own data capabilities, micro-credentialing is another good way to upskill and obtain specialised qualifications in data.

Having a range of data skills and an evidence based mind-set, enabled me to change roles that offered new horizons and variety. They included data infrastructure and securing data centres for the Australian Government, publishing data for the Australian community, preparing Budget papers, making data available through Open Source software (now called open data), to name a few.

In my current role, I use data to assist businesses to support economic growth and job creation for all Australians. I lead the Data and Policy Design Branch in the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources (DISER). In this Chief Data Officer type of role, I am responsible for our data strategy, data governance and management (we use DAMA International’s Data Management Body of Knowledge), spatial data policy, business intelligence and reporting, and Human Centred Design. We need good data and design more than ever before.

My team is regularly asked to assist with data on questions, such as how many businesses are in a particular town or region, what industry sectors are they in, combined with the economic data of the geographic location and business intelligence on the ground. In 2020, we have assisted businesses and Australians affected by bushfires, COVID and drought by wrangling different datasets which provided unique insights that assisted the Government’s support packages. One of the key changes in data in 2020, is everyone now wants their data and what is happening, right now. Having real-time or at least daily data is now the expected norm from clients and something data teams need to work towards.

We have also used data for COVID activities such as Personal Protective Equipment, non‑medical mask availability for Australians, freight coming into Australia and how this can affect supply chains; and our Geocoded National Address File assisting in State and Territory border zones and permits.

I am actively involved with the Data Champions across the APS, as well as being one of the SES sponsors of the APS Data Network. The Data Champions play an important role in each agency. The Champions not only provide a coordination point for APS-wide data activities in their agencies but are working collaboratively on projects such as metadata, open data, using data to respond to national emergencies and data literacy and communication. Turning data into easy to understand information for businesses and citizens through visualisation is also important part of working with data.

There are several big changes to still play out with data in Australia. The first is it isn’t really just about your own data holdings now. The value comes by combining your data with data from others, as has been evidenced through 2020.The second is the ongoing automation and artificial intelligence that will change how we use data and citizen expectations of this and its privacy and ethical use. In particular, the prospective lens and what might happen, rather than the retrospective lens and what has happened. Finally, having data recognised as a formal asset in financial statements. This will grow jobs and enable businesses to seek greater investment and financial returns from their data.  I encourage you to grow your own data skills, share your data knowledge with others and grow your own data careers by applying your evidenced based mindset and skills to all of your roles.

Kayelle Drinkwater

General Manager – Data and Policy Design Branch (Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources)