Recently, I had the opportunity to speak with Paul Baltzell, Chief Information Officer (CIO) of Indiana. Baltzell and I talked through some of the challenges and lessons learned while implementing a big data initiative at the state level. Like most public sector entities, the State of Indiana has just started to explore big data opportunities. Indiana has just begun a big data initiative to combat infant and child mortality throughout the state.
This process is in the very early stages of development, as Baltzell identifies, “Our team is very focused on this initiative, and I have high hopes for success. Our target goal is to actually have all our data collected and distributed by September, so that's kind of where we are at – we literally just kicked off the project.”
In our recent report, Transforming Your Agency With Big Data (click photo to access the guide), one of the challenges talked about was the challenge of fragmented data. The report found that data is often siloed across agencies and/or locked in legacy systems, making it difficult for agencies to share and access information across various departments.
Indiana is already moving in the right direction, as Baltzell has worked to consolidate the petabytes of data into a single data environment. “We have an extremely consolidated data environment. We've got everything sitting in one data center for all Executive Branch agencies, as well as some external agencies from other branches of government and other entities,” states Baltzell.
Although the data is already consolidated, there is still a lot of hard work to get agencies to share and leverage the data. With the compelling initiative of fighting child and infant mortality, agencies have been supportive of opening their data and sharing resources in support of the project. “We have got a fantastic group of cabinet members and Executive Branch agency heads within this administration who are excited to share their data and try and make things better for Hoosiers,” states Baltzell. The hope is that, by leveraging multiple data sources, agencies can find new insights, variables and patterns to improve decision-making, and design more effective and efficient programs to reduce child mortality rates.
Although creating common data infrastructures is important, another challenge is to determine what data is actually important to the program. Prioritizing the relevant information is especially critical given the vast amount of data that is collected from dozens of agencies across the state. Multiple departments may have important data to lead to new decisions; some examples relevant to child mortality include:
- Revenue Departments: Data could be collected around welfare and child care benefits, potentially indicating at-risk populations and conditions that lead to increased fatality and mortality rates.
- Corrections Departments: Potential useful data could be around criminal history and related crime data.
- Education Departments: data around educational levels, public school records and related information that school districts collect.
- State Police: Crime data based on location and criminal activity provide valuable insights about potential risks to children’s welfare.
- Health Department: Insights on existing programs, outcomes, and current health risks facing a community’s child population.
- Child Services and Family and Social Services: Existing services already provided to communities, success and investment data, grant information, and dozens of insights can be relevant to child mortality.
- Transportation Data: Insights on bus routes, locations of stops, travel and accessibility, distance to grocery stores, hospitals or public spaces.
As Baltzell states, “We can touch all these agencies, and they are all willing to share the data, but we need to figure out what fields are critical, because when you start putting fields that aren't pertinent, more money is spent.” Baltzell mentioned that one of the challenges the State of Indiana faced was finding one topic to focus on. Big data analysis offers the opportunity for dozens of ways for agencies to transform their agency. Yet, by starting small and honing in on one area, agencies can learn best practices and what works and what does not in specific operating environments. “One of the biggest challenges is to find one target and focus on it. We have a really fantastic target, but there are so many things you can go after; figuring out which one to choose is a difficult effort,” states Baltzell.
Big data has the opportunity to transform the way government works and operates. As more agencies continue to adopt programs and initiatives, public sector leaders greatly benefit from sharing best practices and lessons learned. This will facilitate broader adoption and improved project outcomes, leading to improved and better coordinated public initiatives that save citizen lives.
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Thank you to our industry partners for sponsoring the GovLoop Report, Transforming Your Agency with Big Data. With any questions about this report, please reach out to Pat Fiorenza, Senior Research Analyst, at [email protected]