Jan 21 2020

How States Overcome Big Data Analytics Challenges

Government agencies face technical and workforce hurdles but can climb over them with help from partners.

According to the National Association of State CIO’s 2020 Top 10 Priorities list, data management and analytics land at No. 8 for state IT leaders. That includes data governance, data architecture, strategic business intelligence, predictive analytics, Big Data and related roles and responsibilities.

According to a 2018 Center for Digital Government survey, when asked to identify their biggest workforce needs, 87 percent of states cited “business intelligence and data analytics” — second only to cybersecurity.

As state and local governments strive to improve services for residents, they are making use of data analytics and Big Data. Technology platforms that take advantage of such tools can gather information otherwise locked away in silos and identify trends in real time.

In some cases, as with Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services, states are using analytics to solve back-end issues and gain insight into how critical benefits applications are performing so they remain available for residents to access. Data analytics tools are helping police departments spot patterns to predict crimes.

Jane Wiseman, a fellow at the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, notes that data analytics tools can help government agencies detect fraud, enhance efficiency and reduce costs, and improve the accuracy of government compliance and billing, among other benefits. 

Yet government agencies face barriers to effective use of data analytics tools, including aging infrastructure, constricted budgets, technical complexity, data governance issues and a lack of a skilled workforce

The Challenges to Using Data Analytics in Government

Government agencies face several technical and managerial challenges when it comes to data analytics. As a KPMG video notes, that includes developing and maintaining citizens’ trust in data analytics and private and secure data. Citizens are likely to be more willing to give sensitive and useful data to governments that use analytics to deliver better services.

Governments must determine which kinds of data they actually need, an IBM white paper notes. “For many analytical tasks, such as measuring program effectiveness and constituent segmentation, internal data could be all the agency needs,” the white paper states. “But for others, such as fraud detection and revenue projection, data from outside the agency is essential for maximum effectiveness.”

Additionally, the quality and accessibility of data is a key challenge. Many agencies have legacy data storage in management platforms that are not set up for modern, advanced data analytics. Agencies need to modernize their platforms and can do so via cloud-based tools. 

Stovepipe data systems that do not communicate with each other also remain a challenge. “The current trend is to implement integrated systems during major modernization efforts or to build bridges by using master data management tools to get a single view of the citizen,” the IBM white paper notes. 

Yet another challenge is the skills gap. Agencies need to invest in hiring and training data scientists to effectively analyze all of the data they are collecting. 

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how data lakes can help officials make more informed decisions. 

How Government Can Effectively Use Big Data Analysis

Thankfully, there are a wide range of commercial partners agencies work with to help them overcome these challenges, especially technical data management ones. These include IBM, Qlik, Microsoft and Splunk

As the IBM white paper notes, there are a variety of data analytics tools that can determine “who is who, who knows who and who has a family or business relationship with whom.” These can help fight identity theft and establish connections between different entities. 

Visualization tools can show data analysis results in charts and graphs and on maps. Unstructured data analysis tools can rifle through video files, social media, Internet of Things sensor readings and other data to “identify those of interest to the agency or to dig deeper in the process of working a case on an individual citizen or business,” the white paper notes. 

Cognitive analysis tools based on artificial intelligence “provide for advanced analysis of both structured and unstructured data based on machine learning and intelligence that becomes smarter the more it is applied to the problem,” IBM states. 

State and local governments have clear opportunities to use data analytics to improve the lives of the constituents they serve. However, they also clearly face challenges in using such tools. By overcoming these obstacles, agencies can take full advantage of the power of Big Data.

This article is part of StateTech's CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.

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