Building a data-driven culture isn't easy, but it's important.
If some government agencies were taking small steps toward digital transformation prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the outbreak of the novel coronavirus certainly accelerated movement in that direction. The global spread of the virus has ushered in mass behavior and work changes that will have a long-lasting impact on how agencies operate and improve the types of interactions citizens have with government.
Federal agencies that invested in modern technology such as automation and cloud infrastructures, cybersecurity improvements, scalable collaboration solutions, and data management practices, have been able to further transition into a digital environment to accommodate the surge in teleworking and delivery of digital services to citizens, according to Federal CIO Suzette Kent. Those agencies that did not are now playing catch up.
Adopting a more data-driven culture and harnessing the power of data analytics can help agencies begin or speed up their digital transformation journey. A data-driven public sector seeks to transform the design, delivery, and monitoring of public policies and services through the management and use of data. Data, and proper access to that data, is the key.
Agencies Leveraging Data
Multiple agencies have leveraged data and technology such as artificial intelligence to ramp up and inform their COVID-19 response-related actions, Kent noted in a blog. In fact, the Department of Health and Human Services created a system, in nine days, called HHS Protect, which provides a common operating picture of the spread, impact, and behavior of the virus so members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force can analyze policy options with data insights.
On the municipal side, the City of Boston launched two data analytic dashboards that allow residents to easily track the number of cases of COVID-19 across the city and throughout the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The dashboards are part of a suite of digital tools available to residents, which include a texting service available in six languages, online city services, and frequently updated resources and factsheets available on boston.gov/coronavirus.
Going forward agencies will need the right digital transformation strategy, harnessing the power of data, to deploy the right intelligent technologies and platforms needed to push data-driven innovation that can be deployed directly into government processes.
How then can public sector agencies adopt a data-driven culture that will help infuse data into every decision-making process? Here are some steps to consider:
1) Improve Data Maturity. Agencies need the ability to collect, report, and analyze data. However, they first must understand where they are in their Data Maturity Curve, which measures how advanced an organization’s data analysis capability is. Knowing where an agency is on the curve will help maximize the value of data while minimizing risk. The curve includes:
- The Data Maturity Curve starts at zero, Lack of Data for Analytical Projects, where key data sources are never or inadequately collected and stored. Data is collected manually with significant errors.
- Many agencies might be in the first stage, Isolated Data Projects, where business units work with data throughout an agency in an uncoordinated fashion with no shared definitions and process, though the beginnings of a data-driven culture may be present.
- Or they may be in the second stage, Secure, Reliable Data Repository, where a data warehouse or lake system with well-defined management and governance are utilized to provide a foundational system for reporting, data science, and key operational users.
- In stage three, Governed Self-Service Access, employees have access to expanded data for exploration with data access granted based on levels of expertise. Reporting teams focus on operational analytics while business users run queries and extract data as needed.
- In the fourth stage, Scientific Hub for Data Insights, users can rapidly deploy technology platforms designed to solve specific business problems. Here, a well-governed data environment and a high-functioning data science team is driving thought leadership in a variety of areas.
- All this forethought and collaboration yields results that lead to the final stage, Insight Driven Culture, where data is woven so deeply into the fabric of an agency, it has become incorporated into every decision-making process.
To successfully move up the curve, agencies should identify and prioritize specific projects or use cases that will create value for their organization before deploying specific algorithms or platforms.
2) Break Down Siloes, Deploy Integration Methods. Many agencies’ data resides in a mix of on-premise systems or in a cloud, in many cases, via software-as-a-service sources. Agencies should begin to assess the various options to extract data from each unique source system. Once they understand the back-end data sources, then they should evaluate their front-end reporting needs. In many cases, there are different communities that favor different business intelligence tools, and not all tools might be directly connected to the existing data warehouses. By having the right strategies in place, agencies can determine which tools would need integration into a new enterprise data store.
3) Harness the Power of Emerging Technology. Agencies should leverage data and develop a strategy to integrate their digital and physical worlds more holistically. Doing so could enable new business models or services for citizens. Today both the workforce and citizens expect a consistent experience wherever they engage with an agency. Just like in their consumer experiences, citizens are no longer separating digital and physical experiences. As a result, agencies should think about leveraging the right mix of technology and tools to seamlessly integrate digital approaches and physical experiences.
4) Create a Workforce with a Data-Driven Culture. Focus on how agencies can infuse a data-driven mindset throughout their workforce to enhance public-private partnership collaboration across industry and develop a strategy going forward. This includes how they can execute on that vision to adopt a real data-driven culture. Transformational projects require not just the right people, but the right mix of people. Consequently, it is crucial to partner with a team that aligns with an agency’s culture, values, and mission. Building this workforce might be one of the most difficult tasks in this transformation journey but will produce the highest, long term value if done right.
As agencies continue to move into the new “digitized” normal, data and analytics are the key accelerants of an agency’s transformation journey. Agencies whose workforce understands how to properly access data and analytics created through a mix of technologies, will be positioned to make the real-time and informed decisions necessary now and in a post-COVID world.
David Watts is chief digital adviser for the public sector at World Wide Technology.