Practical Steps for Becoming a More Data-Driven Agency

For agencies charged with delivering public services, their pursuit to do so in a thoughtful and data-driven manner is paramount.

Admittedly, this approach starts with a decision to make data and business intelligence a strategic priority. “This isn’t about doing technology for technology’s sake but rather focusing on outcomes and impact”, said Chris Atkins, Vice President for Digital Government Transformation at SAP Public Sector. SAP has long been a leader in supporting public sector organizations to become intelligent agencies through data and technology. To provide clarity around what customers need, SAP brought Atkins on board to leverage his background as the former Director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget.

“The challenges for agencies fall into two broad categories: one is the business side of the agency and the other is its IT operations,” Atkins explained. On one hand, agencies are challenged with serving a customer base that has grown accustomed to seamless digital experiences through online platforms. The public expects the same experiences from their government.

Sadly, these expectations are at odds with the siloed nature in which government is structured. It also includes the back-end systems agencies use to serve the public, many of which were not initially designed to integrate with other systems. For example, the government systems and interfaces a citizen might use to file paperwork or make payments are not usually the same systems and interfaces they use to dispute any issues with those payments or documents.

“This creates frustration, and a lack of quality services can erode the public’s trust in government,” Atkins said.

With this in mind, Atkins shared practical steps agencies can take to achieve data-driven outcomes and work collaboratively with stakeholders to tackle pressing issues.

First, identify a compelling project that has broad support and could benefit from business intelligence tools and data. Start with an outcome that your agency leaders and staff can rally around, such as reducing traffic congestion or addressing the opioid epidemic.

“You have to find a way to bring the business side and the IT side of the house together,” Atkins said.

He cautioned against using data and technology for technology’s sake — rather than as strategies to accomplish a goal. For example, using the SAP® HANA platform together with SAP Predictive Analytics® software, state and local agencies have taken a more insightful and innovative approach to chronic issues, including decreasing infant mortality in the state of Indiana and reducing recidivism in Arkansas.

Although SAP works closely with agencies to provide software for core processes, such as finance and procurement, the company is delivering on the government’s need to add intelligence to those core operations and integrate that knowledge across the enterprise. The ultimate goal? Use technology and data to tackle the government’s most pressing challenges.

On this data-driven journey, Atkins advised that agencies openly share their results, rather than revealing an initiative but concealing progress. “Don’t get everyone excited and then wait a year to show results,” he said. “Showing quick wins will generate goodwill and executive support.”

Takeaway: Becoming a data-driven agency isn’t about using technology for technology’s sake, but rather about using intelligent tools and data to better serve the public.

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent guide, “The Top Government Innovations of 2019.” Download the full guide here.

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