CMU-A students create analytics tool to help improve internet connectivity

Posted 12th January 2021

A new analytics tool developed by Carnegie Mellon University Australia (CMU-A) students will help South Australian government agencies identify regions which would benefit most from improved internet connectivity.

Master of Science in Information Technology (Business Intelligence and Data Analytics) students Ituriel Flores, Tatiana Margulies and Matias Peralta Ramos examined how the current internet coverage and technology type of the internet available in different South Australian regions intersected with demographic and economic data. This included data such as population size, rate of growth, household income and highest year of school completed, as well as the economic growth rate, gross regional product, major transport corridors and the impact of COVID-19.

They produced a dataset and dashboard that weighs the socio-economic variables to internet requirements by region and presented their findings during a meeting with the South Australian Government agency, Infrastructure SA, recently.

At the meeting, from left: Erick Rodriguez and Luke Oswald (Department of Premier and Cabinet), Ituriel Flores, Matias Peralta Ramos and Tatiana Margulies (CMU-A students), Catherine Jamieson (Infrastructure SA), Dr Murli Viswanathan (CMU-A Associate Professor) and Evan Hill (Office of Data Analytics).

Associate Professor and Project Supervisor, Dr. Murli Viswanathan, said the analytics dashboards produced by the students will empower departments to make important, data-driven decisions to identify regions that would see the most significant socio-economic benefits if their connectivity were improved.

“The flexibility of the tool will allow prioritising regions either by the proposed scoring system, an adaptation of it, or even using a new one, providing the latter does not require any additional attribute or metric,” Dr. Viswanathan said.

“As a result of the project, the decision-making process will improve as the deliverables will help to identify priority areas for investment, subject to budget constraints and socio-economic needs.

“Internet connectivity has already changed the way we live in so many ways, from providing us with new ways to communicate to creating new business models and more efficient ways to work. The internet is also about providing services to people and communities to help them reach their potential and this tool is about helping to maximise socio-economic outcomes from better connectivity.”

Other State Government agencies involved in the project included the Department for Innovation and Skills, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet Office for Data Analytics (ODA) and the Department of Primary Industries and Regions (PIRSA).

Infrastructure SA (ISA) Principal Policy Officer Catherine Jamieson said: “We came to the Office for Data Analytics (ODA) seeking to map poor connectivity in South Australia. With ODA tutelage they engaged CMU-A on our behalf to scope the project to meet our requirements”.

“Infrastructure SA is responsible for identifying critical gaps in infrastructure. While many communities have benefited enormously from high-speed broadband, others have languished. While we knew this anecdotally, we did not have the evidence to build a business case… until now,” she said.

Office for Data Analytics Director of Analytics and Intelligence Stephen Zidek said the CMU-A students provided a ‘surge capacity for the ODA to meet an ever-growing list of data-driven projects’.

“When we briefed the students we made sure they understood this was a real world project with a real world client and that we would be treating them as a consultancy,” Mr Zidek said.

“We were delighted with the students’ professionalism in meeting the needs of our client. The product the CMU-A students delivered provides a foundational piece of work we can build upon.”

Student Matias Peralta Ramos said the real-world experience the project provided was invaluable.

“It was great to move beyond the classroom and work with a real-life client to work out what they needed and then deliver a tool which will help them improve the lives of South Australian citizens,” Mr Ramos said.

Fellow student Tatiana Margulies said adapting to the way governments work was both challenging and enjoyable.

“I liked knowing that we were adding value to the work the government is doing and I look forward to hopefully seeing how our tool evolve over time. It was challenging working with the different levels of government and also working with only public data, but also very enjoyable,” Ms Margulies said.

“My background has been more working with quantitative data, so it was also interesting to work on this project which used a different type of data and had a different focus.”