Trading Gut Instinct for Data Analytics: How SLED Orgs Can Get Started

As a former U.S. Navy pilot, I was taught early in my military flying career to always trust the data your instruments are providing, especially at night or in foul weather.

On a moonless night with no horizon, your inner ear and stomach can convince your brain that your aircraft is turning, climbing or descending, when in fact it may be straight and level. Your brain then strongly influences you to make potentially fatal control inputs.

I use this anecdote as a way to illustrate how SLED organizations — that’s state, local and education — have historically made decisions. For far too long, they’ve been forced to use their metaphorical inner ear and gut, because a) they don’t have access to data, or b) they don’t trust the data they do have, because c) they don’t have an accurate way of deciphering that data.

Increasingly, data is driving decisions across industry and government alike, including small to medium government organizations which are actively leveraging performance analytics and evidence-driven data to foster innovation, change and operational effectiveness.

Early successes…

A recent study by the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit public policy organization looked at four departments within small government and their ability to successfully implement performance-based analytics. Its research found:

  • Philadelphia police were able to direct additional patrols to area hotspots using performance-based analytics, resulting in a 39 percent, city-wide reduction in home burglaries.
  • Atlanta’s Fire and Code Compliance department proactively identified at-risk structures, then reviewed those structures most likely to experience a fire, resulting in a 71 percent reduction.
  • Massachusetts successfully deployed analytics to more effectively track on-going city street projects, resulting in increased visibility for decisions makers.
  • Approximately 90 percent of parks and recreation organizations consider performance analytics to be critical to day-to-day decision making.

Not so fast…

While these are compelling examples of early successes in leveraging performance analytics, many civic and small government organizations are still struggling with implementation, for two reasons:

  • They’re focusing on technology first, rather than the 3Ps (people, processes, procedures) needed to successfully deploy and sustain an analytics solution. Without the necessary foundation in place, relevant performance analytics are almost impossible to successfully implement.
  • Unfamiliarity with how best to utilize performance analytics. Organizations like the aforementioned police and fire rescue agencies have been using analytics for decades, and so are comfortable using them. Other types of public agencies are just now seeing the value of an analytics-based approach. 

A starting point…

Today, SLED organizations have the ability to tap into volumes of data, allowing them to make business decisions based on that data, which in turn positively influences the right outcomes. But where should organizations and agencies start?

This summer, the Ash Center for Democratic Governance and Innovation at the Harvard Kennedy School released, “Analytics in City Government,” which looked at how cities are using data to support public safety, housing, public health and transportation. The paper identified key steps organizations contemplating a first-time analytics-based solution should consider:

  • Identify the problem: what are you solving for?
  • Assess data readiness: do you have the 3P’s in place, as well as access to the data?
  • Scope the project: what data is being used to provide insights to leadership and stakeholders?
  • Pilot the project: start small, grow with experience.
  • Implement and scale the model: replicate success across the organization.

Tools of the trade… 

Once an organization has considered these five steps, it can then begin the process of identifying the right tools and partners to work with. Not surprisingly, there is no shortage of data analytics solutions on the market. Typically, these solutions fall into one of two categories:

Data mining or scientific tools used to extract and identify patterns within the data, and data visualization, the tools used to transform data into something useable and actionable.

According to Gartner analysts, there are approximately ten leaders battling it out for supremacy as revenues grow while percent of market share continues to narrow. Historically, analytics solutions were “on premise,” i.e., close to the data.

Today, organizations are seeking cloud-based, agile, collaborative and responsive solutions that can be scaled as needed. And because SLED agencies often lack the internal resources to optimize their solution, they are growing the market for fully managed analytics solutions.

Cloud savvy SLED organizations understand that having tools alone isn’t enough. In order to fully optimize any solution, you need a team of experts on call who can leverage years of experience to help avoid costly mistakes.

A great example is the Indianapolis-based Kinney Group, a Rackspace strategic partner which manages Splunk, the leading SaaS platform for data visualization.

Kinney’s deep experience managing Splunk allows organizations’ technical employees to broaden their skillsets and free up time for value-added responsibilities, while leadership gains peace of mind knowing that their implementation is aligned to industry best practices allowing for a maximized investment in the Splunk platform.

“Our team is passionate about helping state, local, and educational organizations harness the analytics and machine learning power of the Splunk platform to better serve their constituencies and colleagues,” said Jim Kinney, President and CEO of Kinney Group. “As an example, a city government client we’ve been working with for the past year has increased its use of Splunk, shortened overall time to mission, and given time back to accomplish a wide range of business goals.”

The lesson here? You don’t have to go it alone. It’s time to stop making decisions based on your gut, and start using data and analytics to make sound business decisions.

To learn more about how Rackspace can help your agency navigate the complexity of big data, download this Forrester Consulting research paper, or check out this blog post.

Jeff Valdes supports Rackspace Government Solutions; he is responsible for state and local government strategy and business development. Before joining Rackspace in 2013, he spent five years as a technology consultant to the Department of Defense, directly supporting various agencies and military branches. Before that, he spent nine years on active duty as a Naval officer and attack helicopter pilot. Jeff is a certified business continuity professional with an MA in IT Technology Management from Webster University and a BA in Marketing from Cedarville University.

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