The creation of a world-leading national roading database sparked a data quality project leading to better-informed decision making in the New Zealand transport sector.

The data quality project led by the Road Efficiency Group (REG) is supporting the transport sector in improving the quality of transport-related data for effective evidence-based decision making, helping lift investor confidence.

REG is a collaboration between Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ), Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency and 68 road controlling authorities including the Department of Conservation and city and district councils.

REG enables road controlling authorities across New Zealand to monitor and measure roads with the same tools and standards.

REG’s creation of the One Network Road Classification (ONRC PMRT) system and the import of all roading data into the Performance Measures Reporting Tool made road controlling authorities aware of data quality issues.

Road Efficiency Group team
Company-X co-founder and director Jeremy Hughes, centre, discusses the Road Efficiency Group project with the Company-X team.

“When you pull a lot of data together for the first time you discover the quality is variable,” said software specialist Company-X co-founder and director Jeremy Hughes.

Company-X built the One Network Road Classification Performance Measures Reporting Tool for REG.

Poor data quality leads to a distorted view of reality, Hughes said.

“There can be a lot of inconsistency within organisations. Different regions, offices and staff can lead to variations in data quality. As can changes in staff and business processes. You don’t know that your data is inconsistent until you pull it all into one place.

“The evidence was quite anecdotal so we built a set of 63 metrics which quantified the data quality across the important data and built easy to use dashboards so that people could see where they needed to put their effort and investigate further.”

Infrastructure asset management specialist Dr Theuns Henning of the University of Auckland said the data quality project was driving change.

“If you start reporting numbers, it changes behaviour. It's human nature. The moment you start reporting on what people do, they start reacting to it,” Henning said.

“If you set targets to that performance, you get there quicker. You get that instantaneous response, and the data quality has significantly, drastically improved over a two-year period, which was just incredible to watch.”

Waka Kotahi director and REG chair Jim Harland said improving data quality enabled members of the land transport sector to benchmark against their peers and ask: “How come you're getting a better result than us?”

“By providing data quality reports every year, people can see where they're improving, where they're doing well compared to their peers and so on,” Harland said.

“Waka Kotahi, as a major investor in the land transport system, was very interested in the quality of the data.”

Former Local Government New Zealand chief executive and REG board member Malcolm Alexander said data quality was fundamental for good investment decisions.

“The quality of official data is a problem, and how you construct a decent asset management plan and investment profile behind that if you don't know where your weak points are, in terms of your need for investment? That goes to one, the data, and then the quality of it. Because if it's not high quality, you're fooling yourself. You're guessing, essentially. It might be an educated guess within some data, but essentially, it's a guess because you're not sure of the data quality, and you, therefore, could be making bad investments,” Alexander said.

“Quality was the natural evolution after getting the data – it is a natural evolution and it's a never-ending story. How do I get better quality? It helps support the culture of quality and better investment decisions,” Alexander added.

“Bad data quality just means it makes it harder to understand where you're at, and therefore, hard to direct the capital into the places it should go. Rather than be wasted in places where it doesn't need it, and you fall into that trap not because it's silly or anything, bad quality of your data doesn't give you that power to make more informed choices, and that's all it is. It is getting the power to make more informed choices.”

Manager Partnership Programmes at Waka Kotahi Andrew McKillop said the transport sector wanted to improve the quality of the data in its reporting system.

“We had to improve the quality of data coming in, so we got better reporting.

“For me, good quality data is priceless. How can you make a good decision if you don't have good data? If you don't have good data, you can't do good analysis. You can't make good decisions and therefore you don't have good results, good outcomes.”

Publishing data quality reports promoted transparency in the transport sector and continuous improvement.

“We're not into revolution, we're into evolution. We started on this journey 30 years ago, and we are still making improvements. We are in a unique position in New Zealand. We set the standards for the roading sector and continue to evolve.”