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Big Data Comes With Big Promises, Untapped Potential

Let’s start with the good news: The data is there. The bad news? Governments don’t use the vast majority of data they have, and for all of their efforts to gather information, analytics has had a minimal influence on legislation.

However, the tide is turning. Governments of all sizes have created data and analytics departments to assess what they have, coordinate communication between agencies and report stories that the numbers show.

On Wednesday, GovLoop’s “DorobekINSIDER Live: Analytics Unleashed – How Gov Is Using Its Data” online training session featured prominent data officials who explored the past, present and future of analytics in government decision-making. Joining host Chris Dorobek were:

  • Jacob Parcell, Manager, Mobile Programs, Office of Citizen Services and Innovative Technologies, General Services Administration (GSA)
  • John Correllus, Chief Data Officer and Deputy CIO, North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NC DIT)
  • Eric Roche, Chief Data Officer, City Manager’s Office, Kansas City, Missouri
  • Dave Erickson, Director of Solutions Architecture, Elastic

“For us, analytics is really a verb, and it’s about doing something,” Roche said. “It’s about sitting down at a table and really understanding the problem.”

The potential of analytics is unbounded. Governments are leading data collectors and compilers, and with open source capabilities, each organization can theoretically easily access information that’s been gathered worldwide.

Although there’s plenty of data, the multitude of data sources and formats can complicate acquisition. Some organizations choose to keep their data private, hoping to gain a competitive advantage. When kept in-house, the numbers are usually lost in a spreadsheet, providing little practical knowledge.

When records are shared and data is publicized, analytics is what can turn that data into valuable information.

“Data analytics provides the context that’s needed to make better decisions,” Erickson said. “It’s not just the math and data crunching but providing the context around data to improve decision-making.”

When implementing analytics, leaders are working with far more than calculators and computer programs. Currently, departments are still trying to coordinate with each other to see what data can become shared resources for multiple organizations. Collaboration could help catch common errors or provide information that could help generate more accurate, informed budgets.

There are questions about who gets credit for the data used, but when serving a public purpose, everyone is working toward a common goal.

“The sweet spot is when you get agencies to realize that sharing data is going to add value,” Correllus said.

The next stop is proving business value. What does the data show, and how can policies take it into account? Correllus said that to answer these questions, data officers can’t only consider the numbers.

“It’s easy to talk about producing the analytics and really the analytics are the easy part,” Correllus said. “The hard part is building the foundation around governance.”

Although this is the biggest hurdle that data analysts face, progress is being made. For example, Roche’s team was able to prove that Kansas City residents’ biggest concern was dangerous buildings – 800 of them. After bringing that information to light, the city buckled down on public safety and secured $800 million of capital bonds.

Going forward, there’s reason to think that governments will put more faith into data-backed solutions.

“Do analytics because it’s going to take you into places that are very positive that you never thought you would go,” Parcell said.

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