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Posts from the ‘Big Data’ Category

Transparency: A Tale of Three Cities

Although the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Conference is more than a week behind us, I got a chance this week to reflect on my notes.  In addition to the How to Measure a High Performing Finance Office session that I blogged about last week, I attended another powerful session on transparency.  The panelists represented small, medium, and large municipalities which provided an interesting perspective of how resources may vary, but impact on citizens remained top priority.

The City of Sunrise, AZ offers their citizens a “closer look at the city’s books” with a portal called “It’s Your Money“.  Dig into this site and you’ll find easy to access information about all expenditures per department.  And as media requests for salary information remain one of the top FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) inquiries, it makes sense that Surprise puts the information out there instead of spending administrative hours per individual request.

The City of Jackson, MS is embracing open data and the idea that it can be used to create a sense of community.  Check out the JackStats site to learn about downtown development, employment opportunities and financial stability to name a few.  It not only provides the data and dollars spent, but it shows the status of the goal and if it was achieved.  An “open book” allows citizens to feel more engaged and part of the solution.

The City of Los Angeles, CA is striving to meet aggressive open data goals and even open checkbook objectives. Their payroll department alone oversees the pay of 45,000 employees.  And if you want to peruse through this information you just visit the Payroll Explorer website.

Their stats across all facets of the city are fascinating and dive into areas you wouldn’t even think of on your own.  Did you know that their data shows that UPS and FedEx are the top two offenders for parking tickets?  I know, that’s not surprising, I mean how else are they going to get us our packages on time? However, when they looked at the data even closer they were able to determine that this is equivalent to needing 12 Full Time Employees just to manage the parking tickets for these two companies.

Transparency plays a pivotal role in our lives.  The more information we have about our community and surroundings, the better we can advocate for what we need.  And cities can respond with data-driven decisions.

Is having a ‘Smart City’ important?

To me, the term “Smart City” always felt like a fictitious phrase made up by someone in marketing.  I’m probably more cynical than most since I come from the marketing world, but I wondered how you could debate a city was smart or not.  And does that mean the other cities are dumb?  No, of course not, but as I’ve researched this topic I have noticed that some cities do exemplify the definition of Smart Cities.  Yes, there is a Wikipedia page devoted to this.  In short, the term refers to the creation of knowledge infrastructure through technology and data.

Last month I attended the Smart Cities & Counties Summit put on by the Public Technology Institute (PTI).  They put on a great conference and gathered some outstanding cities and counties to come together for best practice sharing.  At that point, I got to really understand why the term “smart” was used.  Topics included 311, GIS, fiber optic broadband, transportation, etc…  But from the topics were overlying themes of efficiency, collaboration, and an overall goal of wanting to build a better community.  So for a city to be “smart” it doesn’t just adopt new technology and say “we are cutting edge”, it uses technology alongside people to look for ways to grow.  Here are just a few of the cities that presented on their initiatives at the summit:

  • City of Minneapolis is using analytics and data to make better decisions across departments and better coordination of city operations.
  • City of Charlotte is building solutions to connect the city and it’s citizens with sites like Open Charlotte and the Code for Charlotte Brigade complete with it’s own hack-a-thon.
  • City of Columbus is working with academia and businesses to conduct research on sustainability and economic development.

Workforce development was another element of Smart Cities that found its way into the conversations.  After all, what is a city without its employees delivering services and its citizens being part of a workforce to stimulate the economy?  Smart cities (or any city for that matter) are seeing a new generation come in with different skill sets while an older generation makes plans for retirement.  Workforce development plans proactively look for ways to bridge this gap and transfer knowledge to move forward with succession efforts. Technology can play a role in this by way of educational/training tools, workforce management solutions, and talent acquisition.

So, this brings us back to question, ‘Is having a smart city important?’.  Some will argue that it is subjective so therefore the title is up for grabs for any city who deems themselves worthy.  I say, the smart city title is important, but only if the ultimate goal is bringing government and it’s citizens together.  So far, I like what I see.

 

A Primer on Public Sector Big Data

Today’s blog is from Don Pagel, VP Public Sector Services at Kronos.

Big Data, Data Warehousing, Data Marts, Analytics, Business Intelligence….all are part of the same evolution of the growing digital world, the data it generates and the structured information contained therein.

 

As computer systems began to house databases of transactional data, users and executives have asked for more and more “reporting” from those systems to investigate problems, maximize efficiencies within processes, and my favorite in the public sector, or determine solutions or answers based on factual information rather than supposition or anecdotal experiences. In recent years the data generated by all of the systems we use and the potential interrelated information from disparate systems has generated voluminous amounts of data…thus “Big Data”.

 

The public sector is beginning to use analytical tools to mine all of the data they have to inform their constituents, look for efficiencies and also to help off-set some political “agendas” by focusing on facts. Public safety organizations use collected data to look for geographical or date-specific trends to help staff for the best use of safety manpower as well as educate the public on what is going on in their areas. Human resource departments regularly extract and update public pay and benefits data to reduce demand on their staff for public information requests. Executives are finding value in workforce management data to determine labor productivity and improve resource and budget management. Finance departments are unifying all of their collections data into one analytical format from disparate systems in order to gage how well they are collecting outstanding fines and fees, develop metrics to monitor and look for ways to enhance processes to improve collections. Parking and Police departments are collaborating on vast amounts of data collected by license plate recognition equipment and software to share information that can be valuable to both organizations. Parking departments are also learning the value of parking transaction data for both numerous supply and demand calculations as well as justifying new garage or meter placements. Traffic managers have long used data to determine traffic patterns but now can use that same data to automate lane use or determine where the next road work or expansion is necessary.

 

Putting some thought into structuring data within a larger organization that may contain multiple systems can lead to an easier delivery of many of the above ideas, allow for “drill-down” structured online reporting as well as simpler ad-hoc querying to more easily find true factual information in a political environment. This is not generally an inexpensive project, but it can pay off handsomely for years to come. If your organization hasn’t started a Big Data project, I suggest you consider the following:

 

  • Take an assessment of all of the different important systems you have and determine their purpose.
  • What data is being stored on each system?
  • Are their proprietary analytic programs already on a system that can be used to export data to a larger environment?
  • Is there an opportunity in an external database to link these disparate data sets together? Over time, you may initiate some data normalization of different systems in order to link data easier.
  • Now that you have a data storage strategy for your important data, what are your current pain points that you most want to solve with data? Start small or start focused on just those pain points. There will be a tendency to over-develop analytics that may or may not be useful. Since you spent time up front on your data storage strategy, you can build them as needed so they have the greatest impact and potential use by your organizations.
  • Develop a plan to use the analytical tools developed in a structured way or using a process. In other words, don’t just make them available, develop a process or policy for their use.
  • Use dashboards that are visible to wide audiences so that there is a natural draw to the information as well as a natural desire to improve the results. Visibility can create powerful competition.
  • Develop education around the data being displayed. Don’t assume that others will know what the data is saying or how to use it to improve results.

 

In short, Big Data is collecting the vast amounts of data we have and putting it to good public use. You have the data, it’s a shame for it to go to waste

Thinking like an innovator – One county’s story

Who knew government finance could be so cool? After attending the GFOA (Government Finance Officers Association) Annual Conference this week, I have to say I saw some pretty innovative best practices from a variety of cities and counties. Like the Town of Cary, NC and it’s advanced meter reading, or the City & County of Denver creating efficiencies with Lean principles, and the City of Minneapolis making better decisions with predictive analytics. But there was one initiative that really had that “wow” factor. It was the Montgomery County, MD’s Open Data project. This new site, called dataMontgomery, gives citizens and employees alike visibility into budgets that puts transparency at a whole new level.dataMontgomery pic 1
dataMontgomery is a tool that makes reading financial data fun and interesting. How can that be you ask? Well, for one, it’s visually appealing. You can choose to look at the data in different views (charts, graphs, etc…). And coming soon, you’ll be able to drill down into each department’s costs, even down to project level spending. Another thing is, its user friendly. The data can be exported or used right on the site. They also have reports already created and ready to be viewed in multiple formats. Public requests for data – no problem!

Meaningful data is unfortunately a rarity in more than just government, but around the world. We keep hearing the term “big data”, but all that data is useless without a tool or resource to help you understand it. An open data tool, such as dataMontgomery, can benefit not just the external customers (citizens, media, etc…), but also internal customers (employees). Think of the knowledge gained by making data-driven decisions. Time, money, and resources that can be reallocated to more fulfilling initiatives. And the satisfaction that they (employees) are serving the community in a purposeful way.  What a wonderful world that would be.

2014 Top Trends in Managing the Public Sector Workforce

At its recent annual board of advisors meeting, board members of The Workforce Institute™ discussed their predictions about the top trends of workforce management in 2014.
To take this a step further, let’s look at this through the lens of government and how (or if) it will impact the public sector specifically.

Making Data Small – The real value lies not in big data, but in the ability to make data small and actionable. Tools and technologies that enable organizations to do this are essential to carry this forward.

State and localities have powerful data at their fingertips to aid in efficiency, reduced costs, and better services to citizens. The ability to analyze trends such as overtime and absences are just two examples of how information can turn to knowledge.

To Cloud or Not to Cloud? – As more organizations look to move their HR systems to the cloud, practical advice on how to do so successfully will be needed. In addition, more will be written about why some organizations are choosing not to move to the cloud and the value of vendors that offer both options.

Both NASCIO (National Association of State CIO’s) and PTI (Public Technology Institute) continue to rank Cloud Services high on their priority lists.1,2 While IT staff and resource numbers fluctuate, and are sometimes outsourced, having an option to host or not lends the organization some flexibility to purchase and deploy HR systems unlike just 5 or 10 years ago.

The Workplace Goes Social – Social media has revolutionized the way people communicate in their personal lives but its impact has yet to be truly leveraged in the workplace. Social tools can drive manager and employee collaboration and knowledge acceleration.

Social media is making waves in government particularly in an effort to engage citizens. But is it working internally to connect departments and project teams?

Mobile Workforce Management – As employees continue to bring their own devices to work, employers will need to determine how to best use the technology to gain access to the information they need, to make frequent tasks simpler and less time consuming, and to keep employees happier and more engaged.

As the mass exodus of retirees comes upon government organizations, it’s going to be important to meet the demands of and attract a younger generation. A generation that does not remember life before mobile devices.

The Affordable Care Act – A year ago, most affected organizations probably thought that they would have a strategy in place by now, but with changes and delays to the process, most are still in a holding pattern.

There’s no stopping it, no matter how hard you wish! Public sector employers share the same responsibility as the private sector when it comes to complying with upcoming ACA regulations. A strategy has to include a way to have constant vigile over part-time hours to watch employees who teeter on the 30-hour threshold.

To read the full press release, go to: The Workforce Institute at Kronos Predicts Top Five Trends in Workforce Management for 2014

1 State CIO Priorities for 2014

2 City and County Technology Ins and Outs for 2014

 

Why is Security on NASCIO’s Top 10 This Year

Earlier this month the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) published their 2014 top 10 list for polices and technology issues facing state governments.  NASCIO Top 10  Security, consolidation, cloud services and enterprise portfolio management topped the list. While security has made the list the last several years, this year’s survey is the first time security has ranked #1.  “It is significant that security has now risen to the number one priority on our top 10 list,” said NASCIO President and Mississippi Chief Information Officer Craig Orgeron. “As I presented in congressional testimony before the Committee on Homeland Security last week, cyber-attacks against state governments are growing in number and becoming increasingly sophisticated. Security has to be the top priority for all sectors.”

In a March 2013 report by Government Security News on the topic of why government agencies are potential targets for security threats, Christopher Pogue, Director of Digital Forensics and Incident Response at Trustwave wrote…the retail industry emerged as the top target for cyber attacks in 2012, surpassing the food and beverage industry (2011) and the hospitality industry (2010). While government agencies did not emerge as a Top Three target, retail, food and beverage and hospitality services are provided within the government infrastructure and can be targeted by organized cyber-criminals in the same manner, which is why all government agencies must be vigilant and implement a thorough data security strategy.

Many government agencies store, process and transmit cardholder data.  Citizens pay taxes, fines and various permit fees with credit cards, either online or in person. So, how do government agencies know those citizens’ personal data is being protected?

After performing nearly 1,500 investigations during the past five years, Trustwave security experts know that it is only a matter of time before a government agency becomes a victim. Given the widespread ramifications of successfully breaching a government-owned payment system, businesses within the government infrastructure must act now and implement a thorough, in-depth cyber security plan, in addition to making sure they comply with the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard, an information security standard created to increase controls around cardholder data to reduce credit card fraud.”

Open Data – Can citizens and government employees work together?

If you attended the ICMA (International City/County Management Association) annual conference this week, then you know citizen engagement is becoming a growing theme in local government.  Why?  Well, for one thing, with limited resources it makes sense to tap into the community when so many are willing to play a role.  And cultivating data is a great place to start.  Governments have so much data; more than they know what to do with or have the bandwidth to analyze.  The concept of open data is to provide transparency and create an environment of “open government”.  Data can hold many thought-provoking discoveries for educative purposes.  All it takes is the right people to unleash its powers.  Street Bump

Take the City of Boston for example.  They encourage their residents to take an active role in bettering their neighborhoods and community with the City of Boston Open Government site.  One really cool project they are piloting is something called “Street Bump”, created through the Mayor’s Office of New Urban Mechanics.  Street Bump is an innovative app that actually counts the number of bumps you hit on your commute through your phone.  Residents are the ones collecting the data and serving it up to the Mayor’s office.  Think of how much more efficient the app is than taking complaint calls about pot holes. The city can actually proactively go out and fix the problem.

Now this brings us to the question of can citizens and government employees work together?  Employees are public servants who are paid to serve the community.  And citizens are recipients of these services, whether good or bad.  But when it comes down to it, the community is what they both care about.  So why couldn’t they work together to make it better?   The answer is, they can, and they are!  As Beth Simone Novack, founder and director of the Governance Lab, said during her keynote presentation at the ICMA 99th Annual Conference, “Local government staffs have jobs that allow them to do work that matters. Most citizens want to do things that matter too. Data availability offers them the opportunity to make a meaningful contribution”.

 Government employees are in a unique position to partner up with citizens to use data to bring solutions to real problems.  Keep your eyes open for more amazing things coming out of the move towards greater citizen engagement.

To read more about open data/open government and Beth Simone Novack’s keynote session, visit: Smart Communities and the Opportunities of Big Data