big data for government agencies

Government Technology: 3 Innovative Trends

There is a false perception that government technology is always slow in embracing innovation. Based on my recent experience at the recent 2015 ACT-IAC Igniting Innovation Conference and Awards (Igniting Innovation), I would say that innovation not only exists in the public sector but that the federal government is leading the way in using more efficient, cost-effective and innovative technologies to solve society’s problems. The Igniting Innovation event is an opportunity for IT leaders in the public and private sectors to converge and recognize the Top 30 IT solutions, services and products that best exemplify collaboration and innovation in the federal government. At the event, Departments and Agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the Department of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services, to name a few, shared their innovative IT solutions. Recognized as a Top 30 Igniting Innovation award recipient because of our work on a cloud based application, Insite, with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Corner Alliance found itself surrounded by over 600 conference attendees who shared similar beliefs that technology can improve how the government functions.

While the event had public sector technology innovations that covered a wide spectrum of topics, such as the National Cancer Institute’s smoking cessation program, TSA’s travel pre-check services, and the event’s winner New York City’s crowdsourced permit management system, there were still predominate themes across many nominees.

3 Trends Shaping Government Technology:

Big Data

One of the first big themes from the Top 30 Igniting Innovation recipients without a doubt was big data. Government agencies have access to more data than they they often know what to do with at times. Previously various sets of data would sit in separate silos and analyzing connections was an arduous process. But with innovative programs like the Department of Labor’s Open Government Initiative, which pulls information from 6 disparate information systems, not only the government but the public as well can search and analyze this data. While we at Corner Alliance believe that not all data sets need to be big data sets to be useful, those agencies with access to more data can see huge benefits.

 Mobile and Apps are King

As we walked around the event, the other theme that was hard to ignore was the use of mobile devices and apps to make government more accessible. Smart phones have completely altered the way we live our day-to-day lives and we want to interact with our government in many of the same ways we interact in our personal lives. Mobile devices and apps were being used for the National Cancer Institute’s smoking cessation program, the winning New York City crowdsourced permit management system, and even helping Utahans keep track of their hunting and fishing licenses. Mobile and app based innovations will be huge for government going forward in every sector from health to public safety.

Open Source

As supporters of innovation on a budget one of our favorite themes was the use of open sourced technology. Many agencies think that innovative technologies are out of their reach because of perceived cost, but with the availability of open sourced technology many of the top 30 recipients instituted their programs for little to no cost. That’s a trend that all taxpayers can appreciate.

We were excited to see and be amongst so many government innovators. It was a good reminder that the public sector is pushing the boundaries of what technology can do for citizens. What innovations do you most want to see from government?


“Big Data” Isn’t the Only Kind of Data

Washington loves buzzwords. Chief among those in the last 12-24 months has been “big data”. You hear it in radio spots on news stations and see it on bus stop posters. I get it; the technological capability of analytics to process petabytes and exabytes of data is allowing for previously unforeseen connections and relationships to be made known. While many government agencies have enormous datasets, many other agencies and most program level leaders do not. So does that mean that the big data have-nots are out of luck? In my experience, any agency and program should be looking to recent trends in analytics to better inform their decision-making processes, big data or not. Last summer, OMB released memo M-13-17, giving government agencies direction on the ‘Evidence and Innovation Agenda’.  As stated in the memo, “agencies are more likely to be fully funded if they show a widespread commitment to evidence and innovation.” Specific strategies listed for how to show this commitment are:

1)   Harnessing data to improve agency results and,

2)   Strengthening agency capacity to use evidence

So what if the agency or program that doesn’t have ‘big data’ to crunch? Are they off the hook or out of luck in being able to show their commitment to evidence and innovation in decision making? Here are 3 ways government agencies can show this commitment without having ‘big data’.

1)   Use the data you have – Regardless of size or scope, all government agencies have access to some data. It may reside with your staff, or can be mined from your agencies stakeholders, but data exists. It might be customer requirements or levels of customer engagement on social media or many other things. It doesn’t require the acquisition of a big data analytics engine to mine the data. Engage with staff and stakeholders to unearth the data that is already at your agency’s fingertips.

2)   Focus on quality over quantity – Agencies who don’t have petabytes of data can still use data analytics to inform strategic decision-making processes. Focus on getting quality data that truly reflects program and project metrics and performance. 200 data points that reflect the current state of a program will be far more informative than 2,000,000 data points that are only tangentially related to your projects.

3)   Gather data points regularly and intentionally – Take a close look at each project and program and identify ways in which data could be collected to better inform decisions or shift focus to better meet stakeholder needs. Make data gathering a normal activity of each project and be specific and strategic about what information you invest time and resources into gathering.

‘Big Data’ isn’t for everybody, but data analytics can be if pursued in ways that make sense for your agency. What have been your experiences with ‘big data’ and data analytics?