If You Aren’t Using Your Data, It’s Just Taking Up Space

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Data is only valuable if you can redesign the way government works using it, according to Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow.

The government collects a lot of data.

Tax records, financial transactions, census information, demographic intelligence and a myriad of other data sets on millions of American citizens make the federal government the largest data collector on the planet.

Yet that data does little more than take up space in agencies if it’s not being analyzed to change leadership decision-making or to improve the experience of users and customers. That’s according to Mike Walsh, CEO of Tomorrow, a consultancy and research firm.

The big question is: “How will the rise of the Internet of Things and growth of data change the way we approach decision-making and leadership?” Walsh said, speaking at the Management of Change conference May 18. “In the era where we not only have data but also have it in real time, how will we change our applications, how will that data empower leaders in organizations to make better decisions?”

The use of real-time data to rapidly alter decision-making is poised to help agencies reinvent themselves, Walsh said. That’s already happening in arenas like emergency response, where a single tweet can spring the Federal Emergency Management Agency into action as it responds to disasters.

At the federal level, though, those examples are more the exception than the rule. Still, Walsh cited several examples across other levels of government that highlight the success of real-time data solving real-world problems.

San Francisco, for example, posts the food-inspection scores of restaurants on Yelp to give customers -- in this case, tax-paying citizens -- additional information when reviewing where to wine and dine. One of the criticisms of Yelp is that restaurants can use a variety of tactics to bolster their review scores. The city of San Francisco, though, realized it’s impossible to fudge a health score.

The city of Arlington, Massachusetts, produces an immersive “visual budget” to its citizens that allows it to “communicate more effectively with stakeholders, users and citizens.” Tax-paying citizens use the budget to catch a glimpse of where their tax dollars are being spent at any given time.

Louisville, Kentucky, collects GPS data to determine where local pollution triggers asthma attacks. This can act both as a warning for those susceptible to asthma to stay away from certain areas but also can help city officials determine a measured response to mitigating pollution spots.

Still, it might be difficult for the federal government to take a clue from local innovators, Walsh said. Culture can be resistant to change, and the larger an organization is, the more likely it is to experience the effects of a negative culture, he said.

Walsh issued an important decree to an audience comprised mostly of federal employees and federally-focused industry personnel.

“Data is only valuable if you can redesign the way government works or redesign the actions of decision-makers,” Walsh said. “If we as leaders don’t use data effectively in what we do, in improving our user experience and our own decision-making powers, we’ll be in trouble.”

(Image via Carlos Amarillo/ Shutterstock.com)