How to Get Started with Data Analytics


Every day, government organizations produce massive amounts of data. It can be difficult to organize, manage and extract insights from these large, diverse data sets. While data analytics can help alleviate these pain points, many organizations struggle to identify a clear strategy for how to use data and analytics and deploy the right technology architecture and capabilities. Just as important, CIOs need to have a clear vision of the desired performance impact to shape the right approach to data sourcing, model building, and organizational transformation. Aligning human resources, projects, processes, and technologies is no small feat.

To craft a sustainable business case for analytics, you need to accomplish three fundamental milestones: identifying a few tangible problems to address, assembling the pilot project, and selecting the foundational technologies and requirements.

Identifying the processes you want to improve and launch a pilot

This sounds simple but it’s an important first step. For an analytics pilot, CIOs should focus on identifying a couple of internal business and operational problems to solve. Those initial decisions and results will drive other choices concerning talent and technology. After your organization becomes more adept at handling analytics, you can apply your analytics capabilities to solve more complex challenges as well. There are analytics providers that specialize in domain expertise – HR, Marketing, Finance, etc. Launching the pilot with a domain expert can help you better understand and measure the results in the context of a specific business need.

Many initial implementations of data analytics or business intelligence solutions fail because they aren’t in sync with the organization’s day-to-day processes and areas for improvement. Conversations with frontline managers and department heads can ensure that you are correctly marrying the technology with a specific operational outcome such as producing faster reporting or reducing unwarranted spending.

Engage a Cross-functional team

Government agencies might think they need to hire an army of data scientists, analysts, and consultants to make use of analytics. With the recent advancements in self-serving analytics, this is not the case any more. In fact, many organizations leverage advanced computational models and visualizations on a daily basis without having a single coder or analyst on staff.

In reality, what’s much more important is to gather subject matter experts from operational functions and create a collaborative approach to making the early proof of concept successful.

To ensure proper management, CIOs should appoint an experienced project manager to oversee the pilot and steer members of the team as they move through uncharted territory. It is also beneficial to seek support from executive stakeholders and other key parties such as the CISO since their perspectives will be critical for the agency-wide rollout.

Select the Technology

Without a doubt, this is the most challenging part of getting started due to the sheer market explosion of analytics and big data vendors and applications. Besides vetting your provider’s core capabilities, it’s important to map back their offering with your overarching technology roadmap. For example, if security is a critical area for your organization     ( as it should be), request to review vendors’ accomplished security compliance and certifications such as FedRAMP. Similarly, if your organization has a Cloud-First approach, you should give preference to providers who leverage cloud infrastructure. This will make compatibility, interoperability, and scalability down the road a lot more manageable. Remember that you don’t need to completely overhaul departmental technology to get started with analytics. Most platforms can coexist peacefully beside a traditional relational databases and data input tools like Excel.

NetComm is the first Women-Owned Small Business (WOSB) to achieve FedRAMP compliance in 2016 for its Beacon SaaS with an Agency Authorization through the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Laurel Fielding is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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