One of government’s biggest challenges today is the continued existence of data silos. These silos lock valuable information behind a handful of gatekeepers and prevent the easy access necessary for actionable insight.
As noted in this GovTech industry perspective, government, like private entities, is amassing enormous amounts of data. But nearly 90% of what’s collected is never analyzed. If that’s the case, then what good is all that data actually doing? How is it working for us?
Without the full picture of data, resources can be allocated by anecdote, not fact. True performance measures, accurate succession planning, and meaningful citizen engagement are not realized. Government may not be broken, but neither is it strategically using data – an abundant resource already at hand – to streamline operations, lower costs, or innovate to solve some of societies greatest issues.
The key to transforming government and creating sustainably healthy, vibrant, and safe communities is to break down these burdensome silos. Forbes, in, Why Data Silos Are Bad for Business, noted, “Data siloes are a serious business problem…[the] structure prevents collaboration necessary to ensure competitiveness.” For private organizations, accessing and sharing operational and transactional data through a digital strategy compounds data’s value and increases market success.
For governments, breaking down silos creates the connections necessary for continued evolution and innovation. Any strategy to break down public sector silos must address the four key areas of government interaction:
Breaking down operational silos begins with empowering staff from the back office to the front lines with best-of-breed applications for daily work. First responders, for example, have equipment designed specifically for their roles. Often, this equipment has been refined over many years to ensure optimal effectiveness and efficiency. Adopting role-based applications that are purpose-built for the front lines and back-office makes each role more efficient, more mobile, and more specialized. These modern back-end systems integrate, capture, and funnel up data for reduced redundancy and enhanced insight.
Government leaders need current, accurate information for smart decisions. Interacting with data helps decision-makers fully understand what’s working and what’s not. When all the systems of record are pulled into one, centralized location in the cloud, challenges with data silos are mitigated. AI and machine learning further help to contextualize data, identify commonalities, and recognize patterns. These patterns provide insight so we can ask – and answer – questions such as, “what’s working to address homelessness?” The City of Austin, Texas, for example, analyzed the data from more than 20 departments involved with or impacted by homelessness to assess who was spending what, where, and when. Better insight led to a new action plan that pooled resources for their highest and best use.
Governments work with agencies and departments across the hall, down the street, and even in other jurisdictions to get things done. Sharing information and facilitating processes across agencies breaks down silos that create obstacles and slow down results. Breaking down silos that separate natural partners is akin to team building. Governments can build teams around agencies and jurisdictions engaged in pursuit of similar, high-level objectives. In technology, the equivalent of a team is a suite, like Microsoft’s office suite. Adopting software product suites that integrate along process communities and interact with each other out of the box can provide early returns on investment. Aligned communities can be courts and justice with public safety agencies, or all entities engaged in the land development lifecycle. A public administration community connects ERP and civic services data and processes to create transparency and strengthen workflow across an organization. Public administration starts with the collection of taxes used for operational expenditures. Connected data allows for accurate budgeting for infrastructure and human capital costs and flows through to the work orders and final accounting of all associated project costs.
Breaking down silos that separate government from those it serves provides ways for citizens to engage with agencies and consume information that is relevant to them. Connections with the public also help governments better deliver essential resident services. Citizen-facing open data platforms, dashboards with visualizations, and customizable mobile experiences allow residents to become part of the government process. Little Rock, Arkansas, allows residents to enter and track requests for city services online. The Citizen Connect Portal contains 311 requests, crime data, planning permits, and Housing and neighborhood program information in one place with simple navigation.
Investing in these areas of government work and interaction with data is key to overcoming the challenges silos create. The resulting connections harness data through modern technology to share across boundaries, automate processes, streamline operations, and improve communities. They transform government to be more efficient and capable in a context of reduced resources, while ensuring sustainable success in the digital era.
Meredith Trimble is a GovLoop Featured Contributor. She is a former municipal official and Town Council Acting Chair, who focused on strategic planning, annual budgeting, and bonded infrastructure projects. Her government experience also includes posts in both federal and state-level executive branch agencies: Associate Editor of the U.S. Federal Election Commission’s FEC Record; and Director of Education for the CT Office of State Ethics. In her current role as a Senior Content Specialist with Tyler Technologies, Inc., she writes content to help empower those who serve the public. You can read her posts here.