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Open source software release saves nearly $1m

Image of woman's face overlaid with binary code.

In July 2016 The NZGOAL Software Extension was published. The New Zealand Government Open Access and Licensing (NZGOAL) framework guides government agencies on how to apply Creative Commons Licences to enable publicly funded data, information and other content to be legally reused. The Software Extension is guidance on how to apply open source licences to enable publicly funded software development to be reused.

The Social Investment Agency (SIA) released their Social Investment Analytical Layer (SIAL) code on GitHub in March 2017. The SIAL takes data from Stats NZ’s Integrated Data Infrastructure (IDI) and arranges it in tables based on ‘events’, known as ‘event-structured tables’. This enables authorised IDI users (researchers and analysts) to quickly and easily undertake cross-sector analysis.

Guided by the using the NZGOAL Software Extension the SIA licensed content about the project as CC-BY-SA (Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike) and the code itself with a GNU GPLv3 (General Public) Licence, both licences enabling people to share and modify the content and code.


Efficiency gains: days instead of months

Using the SIAL generates enormous time savings when producing a picture of interactions with government, meaning work can be turned around in days rather than months.

As well as making analysis quick and easy, the SIAL’s event-structured tables means analysts don’t need to be experts in multiple agencies’ datasets. The format of the resulting SIAL tables creates consistency and makes coding for further analysis quicker and easier.

To date, six organisations (in addition to the SIA) have used the code to create their own instances of SIAL tables.


Nearly a million dollars saved

Six data scientists, with experience across a wide range of agency datasets, produced the first version of the SIAL in just six weeks (at an estimated cost of $144k).

Since being released for reuse, nearly $1m and nine months of work has been saved collectively by the six organisations that have reused the code. These figures will increase each time the SIAL is reused.


Collaboration, continuous improvement and a community of interest

To help improve the SIAL, a review of the code is underway, with the SIA receiving feedback from social sector agencies.

The Ministry of Justice contributed new code to more accurately calculate the cost of court cases. They also created a more effective way to calculate the cost of education events – as recommended by the Ministry of Education. Both code modifications have been integrated into the SIAL.


Summing up

The release of this code by SIA as open source has generated cost savings; accelerated research projects; opened the door to ongoing fine-tuning and continuous improvement. It is a great example of how open source software development can drive efficiency and innovation for New Zealand.


Find out more

Find out more about the SIAL at