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Driving Innovation through Business Intelligence

By John Matelski, CIO & Director of Information Technology, DeKalb County Government

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John Matelski, CIO & Director of Information Technology, DeKalb County Government

Public sector organizations and agencies don’t necessarily compete, but they do face unprecedented pressure to provide services to citizens and constituents in a transparent, cost effective and efficient manner. In fact, the expectation is that they also be customer focused and responsive to stakeholder needs in a climate of shrinking budgets and resources.
"Use of BI tools across all departments helps streamline and energize the abilities to provide enhanced services, especially to citizen-facing functions"

Because of this-today, like never before, public sector agencies have had to become more proactive and operate more like private sector businesses. As part of this new behavioral model, agencies are required to maintain an immense amount of data that is collected each day in order to make ‘just-in time’ decisions as well as to forecast for the long term. The kinds of intelligence collected can be anything from crime data to public health information; economic development data to public school information. Maintaining and leveraging the data intelligence of these kind of operations can be a challenge at times. This is where BI tools come in handy -not only to provide systems that facilitate the collection of data, but more importantly, providing a means to sift through the vast amounts of information for which the public sector is custodian for. The imperative is to understand how to derive knowledge from all of the data, and to use that knowledge to enhance the provision of services.

Business intelligence helps in achieving better outcomes by applying a collection of technologies, methods, standards, policies and principles. The process involves collecting data from multiple, disparate systems, analyzing and transforming this data into meaningful information, and representing this information in easy to understand formats such as dashboards and reports. Use of BI tools ensures that the right information is provided at the right time so that decision-making can be informed and fact-based. Advanced methods can extend into what is called predictive analytics.

With the growth of public sector agencies operating like private sector businesses, and taking into account how rapidly technology continues to evolve, there has never been a better time for all sectors to leverage the latest and most powerful business intelligence tools available -tools such as databases, data mining tools, spreadsheets, Online Analytical Processing (OLAP), reporting tools, and more. Essentially everything an organization needs to collect, store, retrieve, and analyze data.

With so many tools available and so many vendors offering different types of software solutions, it is important for all companies/agencies to utilize BI tools that are easy to procure, implement and manage, especially given shrinking budgets and higher user demands. The better the tools, the better the decision-making and guidance that will occur. The more powerful the tools, the faster and more accurate the decision-making will be. This is true for new insights, innovations and big changes, as well as for the fine-tuning that needs to be done with the mundane activities on a daily, weekly, monthly or annual basis.

While the opportunities for leveraging BI analytics to improve efficiency and effectiveness appear limitless, there is much less clarity about the readiness of the public sector to do so. Whereas, BI and analytics are largely depicted as technology innovations and are commonplace in the private sector, the strategic and tactical use of these tools in the public sector appears to be at its infancy.

As the CIO for a progressive public sector County government, I can convey that we recognized the need to adopt new solutions and approaches to better leverage all of the data that is collected. Use of BI tools across all departments helps streamline and energize the abilities to provide enhanced services, especially to citizen-facing functions; such as social services, tax assessment and billing, water and sewer services, and public safety.

For example, the Police Services Department uses BI and predictive analytics as part of a smart policing initiative. They sift through large amounts of data and case files in order to focus their resources more effectively and efficiently. This helps prevent crimes from happening, and in turn has lowered the crime rate. This then creates a domino effect to help achieve three of the County’s overall strategic priorities – starting with (1) enhancing public safety, which then leads to better ability to (2) develop and maintain sustainable neighborhoods, and finally promotes (3) the ability to facilitate jobs and economic development.

Through increased information awareness and through the ability to reach into all data sources and accurately extrapolate and interpret the business intelligence that has been collected -smarter decisions are made. As each individual company/agency becomes ‘smarter’, and as companies/agencies communicate and collaborate with each other, a more seamless and efficient infrastructure can be developed –which would allow for ‘single view of customer/constituent’ information. The concept of a single view relies on breaking down informational silos and connecting all available information in an efficient manner to give agencies the capability to manage entities (citizens or businesses) and their relationships in a trusted and secure architecture that meets compliance and legislative guidelines. It would also give organizations the ability to construct accurate, trusted identity profiles that can be dynamically enhanced and shared securely to meet changing needs and mandates.

It is also important to note, however, that BI technology alone is not the answer. The focus must be on identifying the questions that require answers – not focusing on the technology required to provide the answer. So a multidisciplinary approach must be used that encompasses strategy, processes, data, and people. Technology is merely an enabler to provide quicker access, more agility, better consistency and more reliability in fulfilling processes.

With this in mind, every bit of data that is available to an organization ultimately supports one or multiple business processes. Knowing what these are, and having processes and tools in place to collect and monitor them, provides a structured means of understanding the information that is available. Here the focus is on mapping the right pieces of data to the information elements of selected technology solutions, and then ensuring the quality, consistency, and relevance.