There’s no denying the benefits of big data in government. So why, then, does it feel like an aspirational goal for even the most well-intentioned organizations?
For one, charting the course from information to evidence-based insights requires a clear vision. There must be senior-level commitment to overcome organizational inertia, or the tendency to do what’s always been done, said Stephen Moore, Chief Technical Officer at AlphaSix, a data management firm.
Chief Strategy Officer Mark Hughes added that leading data-driven modernization isn’t without challenges. But these efforts should be seen as an attainable outcome for agencies, he said, citing the IRS and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as examples.
“[Modernization] doesn’t have to be daunting,” Hughes said. “But at the same time, don’t buy a tool or fancy software package thinking that you have modernized. It won’t be successful. You have to do the foundational work, such as identifying outcomes, potential use cases and stakeholders.”
Here are some practical tips for moving from information to insights at your agency.
1. Know the end goal
It’s critical that you clearly identify how any new investments contribute to your larger goal.
“In the past, we’ve seen organizations buy and install new technology without understanding how and if that technology would be used,” Moore said. “They ended up with a bunch of blinking lights in the data center, but they didn’t really have anybody invested in making use of it.”
2. Prioritize security
Security can’t be an afterthought. It must be an integral part of every step of your modernization journey, from who has access to what data and systems to how information is securely shared.
3. Embrace an adaptable framework
There isn’t one silver bullet for analyzing and making sense of data. But an adaptable analytic framework is the starting point for extracting more value from big data today and preparing for a data-driven future.
“You don’t have to lock data into black box systems or rebuild how you collect, process and store data for every new visualization tool you want to use,” Moore said. Data will change over time, but the analytical framework you use can evolve and grow as needed.
4. Plan for professional development
As data needs and capabilities evolve within your agency, employees should also be well-positioned to support those changes. Hughes recommends using a staffing matrix that provides clear paths for growth opportunities, whether that be IT staff or nontechnical employees developing their data skills.
“Big data can be made easy,” Hughes said, citing successful partnerships that AlphaSix has had with agencies such as the CDC. What started as a project to better store data evolved into a larger modernization effort. That positively impacted the culture around data and expanded career opportunities for employees.
The ultimate goal is helping agencies capture, secure and leverage strategic data assets to transform their information into timely, meaningful insights.
This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s new guide, “Agency of the Future: Common Misconceptions Holding You Back and How to Break Free.” Download the full guide here.