How do innovation and business intelligence allow government workers to do their jobs better?

That topic was a highlight of a May 13 panel discussion about data analysis and the public sector during Techwire's Data Analytics event held at the Sheraton Grand Hotel in Sacramento. Moderator Shell Culp, California's chief deputy director in the Office of Systems Integration, led the discussion among Ann Boynton, CalPERS' deputy executive director; Scott Gregory, California's geographic information officer; and Chris Cruz, CIO of the California Department of Health Care Services.

Boynton expressed the need to cultivate and develop data scientists in the areas of government specifically focused on business intelligence.

Her CalPERS staff comprises multiple people focused on the department's mission to handle retirement pensions, but they need a segment of staff solely focused on data analysis.

"It does help to have one portion of the organization that's so intensely driven by data analytics to help the rest of the organization," she said. "It's about looking for people who are curious, who have the right kinds of analytic minds… to really drive into data and understand what the data's trying to tell you."

She spoke to Government Technology after the event to expand briefly expanded on that line of thinking.

"The need for innovative folks around data, in state government in particular, is critical. As we look at the future of where we're headed as a state, we need to really focus on how do we train staff to do the right kinds of analytics," Boynton said.

Yet California's current organizational system isn't structured to attract that kind of employee to the state workforce and give him or her a path to advancement.

However, according to fellow panelist and public servant Scott Gregory, California's geographic information officer, state administrators who want these employees are impeded by outdated job classifications that don't fit the need. He's seen this firsthand in his specialized segment of state service.

 "A lot of the job classifications are antiquated. Many of them were developed back when folks didn't even know what GIS was," he said during the panel. "Data analytics is core to geographic information science, and the use and application of it," he said.

Gregory also spoke to Government Technology after the panel. Both he and Boynton had advice for government departments that want to address data analysis the right way. Boynton also mentioned the importance of doing so and keeping expenses as low as possible.

"I think the advice would be to really understand what is the business need — what are the drivers behind why you want to go into this kind of business, and then after you do that, situate yourself and understand how you accomplish that task," Gregory said. "A lot of it begins with understanding your data portfolio, understanding your data environment, to help answer some of those broader questions of your constituency."

Boynton used a rhetorical question to state the importance of watching the money in the process.

"Is the investment of dollars in places that will yield results so that we are able to do more with less dollars into the future?" she asked.

Hilton Collins, Staff Writer
Hilton Collins  |  GT Staff Writer

By day, Hilton Collins is a staff writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines who covers sustainability, cybersecurity and disaster management issues. By night, he’s a sci-fi/fantasy fanatic, and if he had to choose between comic books, movies, TV shows and novels, he’d have a brain aneurysm. He can be reached at hcollins@govtech.com and on @hiltoncollins on Twitter.