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.
Change isn’t easy, and sometimes it can be tempting for agencies to stick with the status quo. For financial planning, budgeting and complying with congressional mandates, Excel can seem to be the easiest choice for agencies that need access to information and are short on time. But the real value for agencies lies in the power of governed visual analytics tools that enable government to work smarter, not harder.
For government, “programs like Excel are not ideal for collecting or storing data because changes aren’t easily tracked, managed and shared to ensure employees have updated information,” said Heather Gittings, Director of Public Sector Market Development at Qlik, a business intelligence and visualization software company
As agencies move away from the spreadsheet and implement visual analytics, it’s critical they choose a solution that ensures everyone is working off the same dataset. “Some agencies are adopting lightweight visualization tools that are easy to access but lack governance on the backend,” Gittings said. “This creates the same problems as Excel, particularly an inability to manage the integrity of the data.”
These lightweight visualization tools don’t solve the issue of data quality. In fact, they reinforce the assumption that the data is correct because it’s presented visually in charts and graphs.
“Governed visual analytics is essential,” Gittings said. “Unfortunately, people hear governance and assume a heavy burden will be placed on the IT department. But that’s not the case with Qlik.” Qlik’s data governance enables IT to define and publish the content, ensuring everyone’s using the same variables, measurements and business rules. End users can then build on (but not change) that content, enabling them to be agile while still ensuring trust and scale across the agency.
Another challenge agencies face when embracing robust analytics solutions: user adoption. Part of the problem is when agencies use legacy business intelligence tools, they’re using clunky, outdated systems that drain their resources. “It can take months, in some cases years, to roll out those capabilities,” Gittings said.
But as anyone in government knows, there can be resistance to change. The opposition to embracing more modern solutions often comes from the people who have invested much of their time and energy into managing a particular system or process. “To gain buy-in from those employees, find tools that can show immediate value by connecting people to information and insights they otherwise couldn’t get”, Gittings said. These are the benefits Qlik users have come to expect.
These are among the capabilities that agencies should consider as they invest in analytics tools. Gittings also advised agencies to consider the efforts and resources required to maintain legacy business intelligence solutions, the level of burden that overworked IT departments face, and both current and long-term costs.
The ability to deliver on these requirements and more has made Qlik a vital partner with a variety of government agencies across the civilian, defense and intelligence communities.
Qlik is used broadly across various agencies with different missions, from monitoring how healthcare is administered within military health to tracking environmental factors at the Environmental Protection Agency. Qlik is also used widely in financial management offices to give business analysts the next-generation of Excel — a solution that allows them to quickly view obligations versus expenditures by program, vendor, contract type and more.
These interactive solutions that provide a holistic view of data can’t be achieved if your agency is still using static, outdated systems or Excel documents. “For agencies using either of these options, they’re not getting the information they need, and they’re spending too much time compiling reports from different sources,” Gittings explained. “As a result, they have little time to analyze the information.”
But if faster, easier-to-use, more accurate data is a priority for your agency, Gittings offered simple advice to embracing analytics: just do it. More precisely, do it now. Too often, agencies think they have to clean up their data and ensure all the backend capabilities are in place to properly manage the data.