More than the Numbers: Beyond Data and Analytics in Public Sector Tech

The Human Services Information Technology Advisory Group (HSITAG) and State & Local Government and Education (SLED) council hosted a panel at AMM 2016 focused on harnessing big data in the public sector. The two groups assembled a panel of CIOs involved in state and city governments for a discussion about how technology can be used to better serve users in various verticals, including health and human services, transportation, service delivery and education. The panelists shared their thoughts concerning government use of this technology, covering how it can be utilized to harness and analyze data for practical purposes, and how it compels evolution and advancement. 

The panel was moderated by Josh Nisbet, CompTIA SLED Council vice chair and Government Clients & Markets director for Deloitte. Panel participants included:

The panelists opened discussions with an explanation of their roles as CIOs and the importance of working with a chief data officer (CDO), addressing how that role can vary by jurisdiction. In some cities and states, the CDO is embedded directly in the mayor’s office, assisting in strategic decisions through the use of data and analytics. In others, the CDO operates in the CIO’s office covering broader IT issues. Bhatt went on to explore how the CIO role must constantly adapt to industry changes, and how decision-making must reflect end-business goals.

Neely explained how, in Indiana, the state government utilized data analytics to take on the growing infant mortality problem. He explained how, through careful analysis of health data and mortality records, they discovered that declining infant mortality rates demonstrated a correlation with an increase in visits to healthcare providers during pregnancy. Based on that data, the state shifted the public education campaign focus, which has arguably led to a drastic reduction in the number of infant deaths.

Doll shared information about big data and analytic methods that have proven helpful in reducing youth violence, and in cracking down on bad landlords in Minneapolis. By compiling and analyzing complaints and crime statistics, city governments can work toward policy change designed to improve overall quality of life for citizens. Doll stressed the ultimate goal of the city’s data analysis is to move beyond predictive analytics to focus more on prescriptive analytics.

Berman shared the challenges she faces with city-department heads when it comes to visualizing data. She related how departments in the Chicago city government have requested dashboards to visualize all relevant data. She highlighted the technical difficulty such a dashboard would present, and went on to discuss the value in sitting down with each department to identify their true business problems, and how harnessing data and analytics can be more effective than just throwing up another dashboard.

The entire panel chimed in on the challenges inherent in seeking out tech development funding. The consensus seemed to be that there will often be headaches involved in trying to develop a comprehensive tech solution to solve problems because budgets can impact so many departments and agencies.

Berman provided a personal example. In Chicago, one early childhood program in the city currently receives local, state and federal funding. However there are two different locations involved in the program where parents can enroll children. Because the system is so complex, there remains empty seats at both sites every year. By working together to build a unified IT system, Berman hopes to streamline the process, allowing more students to participate it the program this summer.

While they share similar hiring woes, compared to private-sector companies, the government often doesn’t pay as well and usually can’t provide the same benefits. To address that, Neely related how his government has partnered with many of the state’s universities to attract interns and students to help to fill voids left in cybersecurity and data science positions, aiming to create a pipeline for future workers. Berman summed up the ability to learn first-hand in the challenging environment for a few years. “It’s like the Peace Corps without the hut.”

Bhatt said they often try to entice workers with the greater challenges the public sector presents. “If money is the only driver, it is hard to compete, but if you are looking for the challenge of solving problem, we are the place to be,” said Bhatt.

The session wrapped up with panelist sharing how they envisioned technology would develop in the public sector during the next five-seven years. They all agreed governments need to become more resident-focused, and must leverage data to be more responsive and proactive to the people they serve. They also agreed it was important to make as much data open and available to the public as possible, hopefully encouraging those outside the government to write programs and use that data in new ways to help solve the problems of the day.

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