CXO

Slice and dice your data to make it relevant to government

I have been involved in some vigorous and refreshing discussions the last couple of days regarding the mission and purpose of IT within government, and I have settled upon a couple of ideas that are neither new or earth shaking but have some new relevance to me as a deliverer of IT services because of the stimulating discussion.

  • In government, it's all about how the dollars are distributed.
  • If your IT department can aid someone (division, department, agency, system, etc.) in gaining more dollars you will:
  • Make them very happy.
  • Do it enough times, you will gain an excellent reputation.
  • You will get what you need in order to continue to help out.

This thought plays out in a number of ways, including how you deliver your services, infrastructure, customer focus, etc. But one of the most important ways it plays out is in how you collect data and how you can slice it and dice it. Most importantly, are you collecting data that is both meaningful to the organization AND the legislative bodies that make appropriations, and are you able to present that data broken down by political district? Because, as someone once said, “All politics is local”.

So how does this translate to data collection and dissemination? Simply put, this means being able to take your data and make it meaningful to a commissioner, legislator, board member, or the like. Often times this means breaking down data collected by some sort of meaningful boundary – whether it is region, state, county, city, census tract, or political district – or perhaps all of the above depending on the scope and size of your organization.

Often times, when creating data structures to meet the needs of the organization, one often forgets, not only to capture data elements that make sense regarding the target audience of the application, but also to insure that there are data elements in place that can allow you to tie the data back to one of the boundaries mentioned above. Here is an example:

An organization collecting water quality samples will obviously be concerned about collecting the precise Geographic Information Systems (GIS) coordinates of where the sample was taken. While this is well and good, for we now know where in the stream or lake or river the sample was taken, it is important to take the next step. That step is to make sure that we can tie those locations back to a boundary that can be used to make the data relevant to those that control purse strings. The more granular the boundary, the better. If you can take your data and say, "Well commissioner, our data indicates that the water quality in your district is three times as bad as those in your neighboring districts," you can perk up a politician's ears long enough for him or her to perhaps ask why and also how much and what do we need to do to fix that?

Like I said, this is neither new nor earth shattering, but sometimes it is lost among all the other noise regarding the need for data collection. Because for most government agencies, no matter how important their mission, if they can't communicate their need for funds in a way that is relevant and motivating to someone who controls or influences the purse strings, then they will be left with nothing more than continuation budgets – or worse – having to make do with less.

I may have mentioned this before, but I once worked with an EMS Director who was a master of manipulating his data in accordance with commissioner districts. Because of this, he was a force to be reckoned with when it came to budget hearings. He had all of his stats broken down in meaningful ways to the commissioners and could almost always combat an attempt to curb his budget. Usually with a comment like, "Certainly commissioner, we can accommodate the cuts you are recommending. Which of the 300 anticipated calls that we get from your district based on last year's statistics should we let die first because we cannot respond in a timely fashion?" Powerful stuff there.

Obviously this kind of data manipulation often involves GIS capabilities, using tools from ESRI, or now even Google. So if you aren't using these tools in your organization, you should be including them in your strategic plan. Other useful tools or data can be gotten from the Census Bureau and the U.S. Postal Service.

For IT departments, this concept is significant. The more you can do to educate and drive the organizations you support to provide information in this way, the better you will do at garnering the funds you need to operate. So, make sure you develop the capabilities in your shop and become evangelists for this way of thinking. It will not only serve your customers better, it will also help you in the long run.

 

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