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Data Tools Make Waves at WA Department of Transport

WA Department of Transport’s Data and Business Strategy Analyst for Maritime Nick Cowan reveals efficiency gains made through investment in modern data capture

While data has been an important asset in running the Western Australian Transport Department for many years, technology and tools are always advancing to improve the way data is collected and used to increase safety, efficiency, and to keep people in WA moving.

Keeping track of the number of vessels in the water while ensuring safety and compliance is a huge task, and a perfect use case for modern data collection and analysis techniques.

Nick Cowan is the WA Department of Transport’s Data and Business Strategy Analyst embedded in the organisation’s Maritime unit.

The Maritime sector’s work is focused on the registration of recreational vessels operating in the state as well as developing and managing coastal infrastructure to allow West Australians to enjoy local waterways safely.

“I use business intelligence and apply appropriate analytical methods to assist in the delivery of maritime safety, education, and compliance programs. Providing reports and insight to help make better management decisions,” Cowan says.

New Data Tools Creating Efficiencies

One of the department’s aims from a data perspective has always been to understand the number of vessels using a waterway so as to make appropriate decisions and recommendations on how to improve safety and plan coastal infrastructure in the state.

Traditional data collection methods create swathes of data that require a lot of manual review, taking up a considerable amount of time. Technology in this area is evolving, Cowan says, creating new opportunities to collect data and increase safety. 

“The challenge has been to sift through the data to find the relevant and useful information. In Maritime, introducing CCTV and radar speed signs has provided the capability to quantify the number of vessels on the water and monitor speeding. This in turn has provided useful data to review aquatic use and guide infrastructure, compliance and education programs,” he says.

Cowan says over the past five years, these investments in data capture have helped the department gain efficiencies in safety and regulation.

“Since 2018, DoT have installed six CCTV cameras and eight radar speed signs in high-use locations and trouble spots, resulting in a 13 per cent increase in the number of cautions and infringements for speeding issued to skippers in the Perth and Peel Regions,” he says.

“Now, 42 percent of speeding notices are from CCTV, enabling marine officers to concentrate on other important safety and compliance checks.”

Cowan says collecting accurate data is also helpful in evaluating the success of education campaigns, monitoring equipment safety checks and the number of boat registrations and Recreational Skipper’s Tickets issued by the department.

“Analysis of data collected as part of marine incident investigations also informs new education campaigns and assists aquatic use reviews and the subsequent placement of aids to navigation and other marine infrastructure,” he says.

“Data is presented at the meeting of the quarterly review of Maritime’s risk-based education and compliance work.”

Trends and Opportunities

 There is an exciting trend in the data and analytics space to have faster or near-instant delivery of metrics, which Cowan says will rapidly increase the speed at which meaningful insights can be determined.

“The growing capability to have live, or near-live data visualisations makes much better and more timely use of data than static reports written at the end of a reporting period,” he says.

“Publishing up-to-date visualisations online for the public to access at any time will be more commonplace in future.”

Cowan also mentions that the COVID-19 pandemic has driven a huge surge in the interest of data analytics, which has also created a lot of demand for data professionals.

“Data professionals are in high demand. It’s a good time to be a data professional with sought-after skills,” he says. “The problem for employers is finding adequately trained staff. There is an assumption that analysing and summarising data correctly is easy and that the more data you can collect the better without regard for the quality or appropriateness.”