Kevin Mead, September 17, 2021
Data and Analytics in Government
More government entities are launching data and analytics initiatives to improve planning, operations, citizen engagement, and services delivered. It is indisputable that access to timely, accurate data enables more informed decisions that deliver better outcomes.
So why doesn’t every government take advantage of their data? Some struggle to identify the right data projects. Others are constrained by outdated technology, or lack of in-house skills to execute on data initiatives. Budget is always a challenge as well.
Below we explain key steps that your government should be taking to advance your success with data and analytics. We provide context for each of these points using a recent project that we supported with a county that has a population of roughly 1 million citizens.
Government Opportunities for Data Projects
The process begins with discussions across the organization to uncover:
- What questions are we trying to answer?
- What specific problems are we trying to solve?
- What is our desired outcome?
The county’s efforts started with wide-ranging discussions across several departments around data, and these were not just with leadership. They involve employees who execute the work of their agencies, and who feel the pain of not having the information they need. Then, they connect the dots to identify where the same issue results in challenges for multiple people and departments.
Their Human Services department offers 27 programs for the county’s citizens in need of support. Each program generates its own data, with all data stored in disparate, disconnected files and databases. In their discussions, here’s what they discovered.
- The Director of Human Services needs to know things like, what kind of results each program is delivering, and do citizens experience better outcomes through different combinations of programs.
- The field workers and managers who are asked these questions could not provide reliable answers. They lacked cross-program visibility as to which citizens were in multiple programs. When they looked manually, they could not provide reliable information because a citizen might be in one program as Joe, another as Joseph, or another as Joey.
- A team responsible for providing information requested by the county’s leadership and the public was also affected. When they attempted to assemble the information requested by the Director, it took two to three weeks each month of manually manipulating files, and the result was inaccurate data that was not current.
The county’s discussions led them directly to questions that needed answering, and problems that needed solving with the desired outcome of investing in their most effective programs and bundling programs to provide their underprivileged citizens with greater support.
Public Sector Readiness for Data
The overall flow you want to follow is: (1) understand your current state, (2) define your future state, and (3) create a roadmap of how you’ll arrive at that future state. This starts by assessing how ready your organization is to execute on data and analytics projects. It is the discovery work that allows you to understand your current state.
The county assessed the skills and experience of their people and found a lack of experience in data projects.
They reviewed their processes to identify blockers and bottlenecks that inhibit scalability. Their greatest blocker was the flow of data to disparate locations, and a lack of process for aggregating their data. Their processes were also completely manual, so there was a huge opportunity for efficiency and improved results by automating as many of these processes as possible.
They examined their current technology architecture and found that it was outdated and not suitable to support their data needs.
They also explored whether their data visualization tools were meeting their needs. In this case, the tools were getting the job done.
It was this evaluation that enabled them to begin laying out their overall strategy for data.
Data Strategy for the Public Sector
Now, you can begin defining your future state and the overall data strategy. The key lesson here is that strategy must come before technology. It is easy and common to get enamored with a tool because of a sales pitch, or because your peer at another government is having success with it. Don’t fall into that trap! Let your strategy inform your tooling decisions. Creating the roadmap to achieve your future state is where you’ll focus on the technology.
The first time we spoke to the county, they knew exactly what they wanted. They needed help to create and execute on the roadmap, but they were well-positioned from a strategy and desired outcome perspective.
Their goal was to have the data from all Human Services programs aggregated in common place where it could work together. They wanted to identify citizens across programs using personally identifiable information like social security number, address, and phone number. Virtually all of the data includes healthcare records, so they required a solution that secures and protects all of the PII and HIPAA data.
We knew where they wanted to go and were able to start designing the roadmap.
Data Proof of Concept for Government
This is just common sense. Don’t try to boil the ocean. Start small, get a win, evangelize the success, and scale from there.
The Human Services project boiled down to aggregating 27 different types of CSV files on a regular basis; transforming the data so that it all speaks the same language, encrypting it to meet security and compliance requirements, making it available to the people who needed it at the they speed required, and automating as much of the process as possible.
It was a straightforward and not overwhelming in size or scope. We knew that it could be completed in a short time span. This enabled them to report results to their executive sponsors and use it as the basis for justifying the next steps in their data journey.
We believe so much in the concept of starting small that we’ve developed the Lightning POC, an ultra-efficient, inexpensive way for local governments to begin their data journey.
You can also use the Kinect Data and Analytics POC Builder to understand the cost and timeline of a customized POC.
Data Modernization in Government
Data is gravity. It’s a force that pulls other things that are attracted to the data, like applications and compute power, to where the data resides. Storing data in outdated technology handcuffs your government to that technology, impeding your ability to modernize and scale. It’s critical that you design modern data architecture on modern technology that enables your government.
Equally important is doing it the right way. Designing the wrong way on the right technology results in many of the same issues as if you just stayed on the outdated technology.
Doing it the right way starts with building a strong foundation with the right structure, governance, and security. Many of our engagements start with undoing everything they did before we got there. One of our clients reached out to me last week requesting help to control costs. Their original architecture in the AWS cloud was poorly designed, and now they are stuck with it for the foreseeable future. It’s costing them performance, reliability, and a whole lot of money.
This is where having a great partner is so important.
The county wanted to build in the AWS cloud because it gave them the best chance to modernize and succeed with their data project. They wanted to work with Kinect because we’ve developed automation that allows us to accomplish, in a month, what would have taken them over a year to do on their own. We also ensure that it’s architected correctly from the start.
Data Projects on a Government Budget
Your budget may dictate your progress, or lack thereof, on data projects. There are funding opportunities that can help you get around budgetary obstacles and drive your success with data.
The county received grant funding for certain data and analytics related projects, so that is a great place to explore.
Another very interesting funding option is with the cloud providers. As an Advanced Partner of AWS, we are very familiar with navigating their funding programs, which are designed to jumpstart a government’s efforts in using the AWS cloud.
The county had decided to user their grant funding for a project around gathering data from different county departments and external sources to track opioid use patterns in the county. Their goal is detection, prevention, and intervention of opioids; stopping at-risk citizens before they start and helping those who are using to stop before they die. We were able to secure AWS funding for the opioid project and the county is now able to use the grant funding for one of their other data initiatives.
Develop Data and Analytics Skills in the Public Sector
The idea of having a great partner is not to be permanently reliant on them. It’s the exact opposite. You want your teams to be actively engaged with the partner every step of the way. You should also build formal knowledge transfer sessions into the engagement. When you achieve milestones, the partner should ensure that your teams understand everything that just happened and how they can do it themselves moving forward.
As your teams increase their capabilities around data and analytics, your government’s opportunities to effectively leverage information to deliver better outcomes will increase exponentially.
How Kinect Consulting Can Help
Kinect Consulting is an AWS Advanced and Well-Architected Partner with deep experience designing and operating optimized cloud environments. We help you create ultra-high performing cloud teams with operating models that drive business value. For more information on how we can leverage AWS funding to support your efforts in cloud misconfiguration management, please contact us at [email protected].