Business Intelligence—Not Just a Private Sector Tool

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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.

Because of this, today, as 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 business intelligence (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. 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.

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 the public sector 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.

It is also important to note that public sector agencies have a much greater likelihood that they are using legacy back-office systems to provide services, while at the same time, having to utilize current and evolving mediums such as web portals to meet the needs of their constituents. With so many tools available and so many vendors offering different types of software solutions, it is important for the public sector 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 and 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 government (DeKalb County, GA), I can convey that DeKalb 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 in DeKalb County 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.

The end result for DeKalb, and all other citizen/constituent focused public sector agencies must be to focus on desired outcomes. Through increased information awareness and through the ability to reach into all data sources and accurately extrapolate and interpret the BI that has been collected—smarter decisions are made. As each individual agency becomes “smarter,” and as agencies communicate and collaborate with each other, a more seamless and efficient infrastructure can be developed—which would allow for a “single view of 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. The single view would also give organizations the ability to construct accurate identity profiles that can be dynamically enhanced and shared securely to meet changing needs and mandates.

While the opportunities for leveraging BI and analytics are great, the strategic and tactical use of these tools in the public sector appears to be at its infancy.

John Matelski is CIO and director of information technology for DeKalb County Government (Georgia) as well as president of the Independent Oracle Users Group.