How is the government using data? How should it?
Governments accumulate vast amounts of information about the citizens and businesses within their borders. As people engage with interconnected devices – from mobile phones to fitness trackers to medical devices – the amount of data available to governments continues to grow. But what good is all that data if it’s not being used to improve operations, cut waste and better serve the public?
Data is increasingly becoming the most important asset for enterprises. And governments are no exception. In the years ahead, the application of data science—the ability to extract knowledge and insights from large and complex data sets—will be crucial for states, counties and cities in their attempts to manage operations efficiently and improve the citizen experience in their constituencies.
But the way some governments hold and manage data is keeping officials from gaining the full advantage of that information. Improved analytics initiatives are often stalled by data silos, antiquated data management infrastructures, and a lack of data governance, processes or tools. However, external forces, such as demand for greater transparency, efficiency and cost-effective services, are driving governments to re-examine how data is being utilized.
Consequently, a relatively new position, the chief data officer (CDO), has emerged in state and local governments. Under the leadership of a CDO, government agencies can begin to break down silos to better share information and create greater transparency for citizens, businesses and other officials to find the data they need in a format they can use.
Some states and municipalities have already demonstrated the value of improved data and analytics. Los Angeles, Atlanta, Seattle and other cities are using a data technique called “predictive policing” to help curb street crime. Many states also are routinely capturing millions—sometimes even billions—of dollars in revenue by using data and analytics to detect fraud and improve tax payment.
As states, counties and large municipalities increasingly rely on data science, the chief data officer will be a critical force behind developing a government enterprise strategy for delivering effective data and analytics programs.
Here are some initial steps that CDOs can take to promote success.
Develop a vision. One of the first steps for a new CDO is to create a vision statement that aligns data and analytics with executive and legislative objectives. That strategy needs to be validated by officials, then communicated to the rest of the government.
Form a working group. Once the vision has been communicated, the CDO should form a working group of representatives from different agencies to help shape the strategy. The CDO also needs to be aware of the challenges faced by the people in the trenches, such as administrators and caseworkers.
Take an inventory. Before an effective strategy can be developed, the CDO will need to identify, at least at a high level, the data assets in place, under development and planned for development. The data officer also should understand ongoing or planned data and analytics initiatives.
Set priorities. Once these preliminary steps are taken, the CDO should pick which initiatives should be done first. These decisions should be aligned with executive and/or legislative objectives and clearly demonstrate value.
Do a pilot project. A well-thought-out and designed pilot will demonstrate the benefits of data and analytics and prompt buy-in from agency and department officials. Lessons learned will ease the application of the program to other agencies and departments.
These steps won’t necessarily be sequential and some can be done simultaneously. Objectives and priorities can change suddenly in government due to budget challenges, changes in administration, new federal mandates, etc. Data and analytics initiatives need to be revisited, reevaluated, and revised accordingly.
The goal is to turn data into something useful. By developing a successful data and analytics initiative, CDOs can help government agencies better carry out their missions with less waste, more efficiencies, and better outcomes. And hopefully lead to a better government to improve the quality of life for all its citizens.
Managing Director, Data & Analytics
KPMG in the U.S.