Information overload is quickly becoming one of the biggest challenges facing today’s public sector decision makers. It wasn’t that long ago that not having enough information was the issue in making more informed decisions - forcing governments to extrapolate their knowledge and experiences in order to fill the gaps. However, with the proliferation of smart phones, data sensors, monitoring devices, published datasets, etc., the issue has switched from not enough information to far too much. The challenge becomes organizing this data in meaningful ways. That is, making sure the right information is available, at the right time, and in the right format to help the decision maker down the path to better decisions. Clifford Stoll is credited with saying, "Data is not information, information is not knowledge, knowledge is not understanding, understanding is not wisdom." So, how can governments use technology more effectively to connect data with greater insights and wisdom?
I plan to explore this topic in more depth over my next few blog posts. For starters, technology can help by ensuring better data quality. After all, any good programmer can tell you "garbage in, garbage out." Better data is a function of people, processes, and technology, so a good place to start is looking at back end processes. Today’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems go a long way towards aligning process with technology. For example, Microsoft recently announced Dynamics AX 2012 for Public Sector, which delivers comprehensive ERP functionality combined with the specific capabilities that government organizations need to operate and respond efficiently, quickly and reliably to constituent needs and legislative mandates. Equally important, Dynamics AX 2012 also ensures a wealth of consistent, high-quality data to drive critical government back office functions.
Another area to explore for better data is Data Interoperability. That is, communicating, exchanging, and using data across multiple systems to achieve a single view of data. Another technique leading to better data is sharing it externally with citizens. Commonly called Open Government Data, having additional eyes looking at data can significantly raise its quality, but that’s not the only benefit. Others include: raising accountability, offering more choice, boosting productivity, and improving program quality and outcomes. You can read more about these benefits in the recent UK study: Making Open Data Real.
But good data is only half of the equation. You also need tools to turn that data into useful information. Using data analysis to improve government processes and results, or BI for Performance Management, provides a solid foundation to drive more actionable information across government. Because so much of what government does is location based, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) must also play an important part in gleaning timely and relevant information from data. Bing Maps for Government is one platform that can help illuminate "spatial connections" by presenting data in a rich, intuitive interface and allowing analysis of large amounts of seemingly unrelated data. Using Advanced Analytics to identify relationships within data for predicting outcomes is also becoming more important as social media data grows. Windows Azure Platform provides cloud based computing power to do this affordably. More and more, Enterprise Information Management or managing information across government in order to improve efficiency, promote transparency and enable business insights, is also playing a key role in making data more useful and actionable.
I look forward to exploring all of the above in future blog posts to come. Until next time, I’d like to leave you with this thought: To achieve better decision making in government, the primary focus should first be on producing better data. As in the game of golf, the best equipment won’t help you unless your fundamentals are sound.
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