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How the Cloud Can Support Your Analytics Journey

This blog post is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide Embracing Data Analytics: Common Challenges & How to Overcome Them. Download the full guide here.

One of the most promising aspects of data analytics is the power it has to transform decision-making at all levels of government. Agencies can use analytics to identify trends, find correlations and target services to their constituents more efficiently and effectively.

However, before they reach that stage, agencies must consider how to best store and manage their data so it’s secure, accessible and cost effective. For a growing number of agencies, the cloud has emerged as the optimal choice.

“There are a lot of regulations that govern the types of data that agencies have,” said Michael Kennedy, Director of Public Sector Cloud Strategy at Catapult. “Until they had a cloud environment that met security requirements, it really wasn’t possible for agencies to fully embrace the cloud for a data platform.” Now agencies can embrace the cloud for many of their data analytics needs.

The team at Catapult knows firsthand the benefits of using the cloud to drive analytics initiatives. For example, Catapult partnered with the Department of Information Resources (DIR) in Texas to develop a business analytics and reporting shared platform that’s hosted in the cloud. The department launched a six-month pilot to determine the viability of using the cloud to give its customer agencies robust data analytics capabilities without having to buy hardware or software upfront. The pilot was also an effort to determine how quickly agencies could gain key insights into their operations by using this cloud-hosted model.

In working with the DIR, Catapult used a series of short workshops called Jumpstarts to determine each agency’s key data requirements at the beginning of the pilot. The company delivered new functionality for the cloud-based project every two weeks using the Agile and SCRUM methodologies.

“It’s a completely different way of approaching the problem to achieve rapid success,” Kennedy said. “When it comes to data analytics we have to take a user-centered experience ap- proach that takes into account the digital strategy. This involves providing different groups of users with the interfaces and the information they need to do their jobs effectively.”

Authorized by the Texas Legislature, the pilot is aligned to the DIR’s five-year plan to decrease IT costs through use of the cloud  and develop shared knowledge across agencies. Agencies struggle to hire and retain highly-specialized IT professionals who can architect, design, and maintain the complex on-premise solutions and cloud technologies needed to interpret data.

Kennedy highlighted three challenges agencies face when it comes to hiring and retaining talent to support data analytics efforts. The first is often referred to as the silver tsunami, which is the rapidly approaching retirement wave that all agencies, are facing. With few exceptions agencies are seeing significant increases in year over year retirement numbers and the ongoing financial recovery and lower unemployment are contributing factors.

“The statistics are concerning because these are the people who know why the systems were built, how they work and how to fix them, and many of them might leave the organization without passing on that knowledge,” Kennedy said.

The second challenge is attracting millennials to the government workforce. Without the appeal of office perks and access to the latest technology, agencies are struggling to attract the talent needed to replenish the expertise of their retiring workforce.

The third issue is the wage gap. Government salaries can’t compete with what employees are paid in the private sector. For retiring government employees, there’s the perk of having a pension, but younger workers want to see those financial benefits in their current paychecks.

With these challenges, agencies need cost-effective options to build their IT workforce. One of the advantages of teaming with cloud service providers is they can supplement agencies’ in-house talent with their expertise. As agencies standardize their IT on secure cloud platforms, they won’t need as many people internally to manage those solutions. This doesn’t mean agencies are letting people go. Instead, it means they are able to shift people from manual tasks into higher-priority roles and better position the agency to thrive after eligible employees decide to retire.

The cloud also enables agencies to buy IT as a service and pay only for what they use. They can move away from the large, highly complex projects that are often fraught with delays and budget overruns.

“The way forward for developing modern analytics capabilities in the cloud requires an agile approach” Kennedy said. While there are times when it is necessary to build big to accommodate massive amounts of information, that is the exception, not the norm.

“What cloud offers agencies is the ability to democratize access to information,” he said. “It gives everyone better access to data and the same version of the truth.”


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