Top 10 Tactics Cities Can Use to Do More with Big Data

By 2020, we will create approximately 44 trillion gigabytes of data each year — and cities worldwide are trying to find new ways to use this data to improve planning and decision-making, increase transparency, and build smarter, more resilient networks. These strategies can help.

by / December 4, 2015

Anyone involved in technology is well aware of the now-famous 1965 observation by Gordon Moore that the number of components in an integrated circuit doubles approximately every two years. Moore’s Law has been an industry standard used to benchmark the exponential progress for computing processing for the past 50 years.

And the information — the data — that we create follows this same exponential curve, giving rise to what we now call "big data." Every two years, we double the amount of information created in the world and, according to one study by IDC, this means that by 2020, we will create approximately 44 trillion gigabytes of data each year.

As a result, cities worldwide are trying to find new ways to use this data to improve planning and decision-making, increase transparency, and build smarter, more resilient networks. Here are the top 10 tactics cities can use to help them do more with their data.

1. Add Context to Each Experience

You can give data a form of situational intelligence by applying layers of context when accessing it. Identify ways you can leverage signals — such as location, role, time of day, behavior and existing schedule to unlock new use cases for the data you already have. For example, the city of Independence, Mo., uses the frequency and trends of how citizens access specific pages on its website to populate the quick links and trending news items.

Where to start: Map out, with the help of data, a situation that you might encounter and identify gaps within this experience that can be addressed by adding additional layers of context. Then develop a plan to get you there.

2. Focus on the Presentation Layer

Everyday we use interfaces like Google Maps and Yelp to solve daily problems like navigate to a specific location or finding the best restaurant. These applications are designed user experiences or presentation layers that enable us to interface with massive amounts of data in the most simplistic way possible. In the public sector, we have an opportunity to look at the data we store to identify opportunities to enhance its presentation layer to simply increase usability for employees and the citizens we serve.

Where to start: Conduct a focus group with your employees or constituents to better understand the performance of your current presentation layer; use the results to identify opportunities to improve usability and understanding for both parties.

big+data+tactics

3. Integrate & Unify Internal Data

It is not uncommon for government agencies to house numerous disparate data systems so that each could have their own system of record. Find opportunities to connect the dots between each data system and identify one system that can be used as a primary system of record to prevent costly duplication and transcription errors that come with operating multiple systems.

Where to start: Do a data inventory of the systems that you control and map the flow of information through each system to develop a plan for consolidation and streamlining each flow of information.

4. Have a Strategy (sponsored)

In order for big data to be used strategically in your agency, you must have an information management strategy that handles complex issues such as information governance and availability. This strategy should serve as a guiding structure for all infrastructure and application projects on your road map, and will provide a foundation to your big data initiatives.  

Where to start: Employ a strategy that allows you to discover the data that you have; gives you the ability to delete redundant, outdated or trivial data; and helps you uncover the valuable information in your environment quickly and efficiently so you can take action on it. Veritas has a variety of resources and solutions that can help you get started.

big+data+tactics

5. Use Standards

Data standards allow you to establish standards or partner with other jurisdictions to take advantage of their existing data standards, and to gain additional insights from your data over time compared to other sources.

Government data standards have been a topic of significant discussion and debate as big data continues to become more prevalent in cities around the globe. Applying standards to the data you store will simplify data management and provide new opportunities to analyze and benchmark your data across disparate systems. As a data standard grows in adoption with other agencies, you will gain the ability to benchmark your data with other agencies that use the standard.

Where to Start: Identify consortiums or publicly available government data standards to use as a starting point for standards adoption. Code for America has assembled a great list to use as a starting point. If no set of common standards exists, partner with other jurisdictions that share similar technology systems to develop a set of standards and use procurement as a mechanism to implement those standards over time.

6. Leverage Openness

One of your greatest advantages with big data in government can be found just outside of city hall in your community. Every community is composed of individuals and businesses that are proficient in a variety of fields, one of which is data science. Find opportunities to open up your data for community access through open application programing interfaces (APIs) to provide a foundation for your community to create new use-cases for your data. For example, Yelp has utilized open government data in certain markets to embed in search results health inspection scores for each restaurant. This was not a capability government had to build; rather, it was a new use case that government unlocked.

Where to Start: Connect with your developer and business community to build strategic partnerships and identify data that is important for them to have access to. As you grow your community involvement, find opportunities to share your agency challenges for the community to assist with.

big+data+tactics

7. Run Analytics

Don’t just store data — identify opportunities to analyze and benchmark it to maximize efficiencies.

The use of analytics provides agencies a basis of understanding the data that they store and can be used as a foundation for establishing performance metrics and goals. As a result, many cities have begun launching data and performance initiatives, such as the city of Louisville, Ky.’s LouieStat, to provide a visual way for employees and citizens to see and understand the performance of their communities.

Where to Start: Performance metrics and analytics can be established by aligning goals to your agency’s vision and mission. Identify your priorities for the fiscal year and establish critical metrics necessary to benchmark your traction.

8. Learn & Predict Outcomes

Machine learning is sweeping the world as a new way to extract intelligence from big data. Today, it is being used by government agencies for fraud detection, advanced cybersecurity and network intelligence. Machine learning involves using algorithms to identify patterns within data that can be used to make future predictions as it changes in real time. What was once only possible through massive computing power in the past is now commonly available as a service by a variety of different cloud companies.

Where to Start: Start by identifying data that can be used to create a model for training algorithms to identify patterns such as fraud, and gradually test and expand usage within your agency.

big+data+tactics

9. Automate Decisions

Big data can be used as a medium to enable automated decision-making for any processes that rely on repetitive and routine data flows. In government, automated decisions can be found in 311 call centers to provide intelligent routing based on user inputs and center capacity. This logistics-based automation allows 311 workers to deal with more complex issues and spend less time on recurring data entry and simple issues.

Where to Start: Map out your existing processes for data-aided decisions and look for opportunities where workflows can be automated. If you have an information governance strategy mapped  out, you can also use automation as a mechanism to implement.

10. Partner to Make the System Smarter

Identify opportunities to leverage data sources from other agencies or even your constituents to make your overall data more intelligent. Waze, a popular navigation mobile app, uses data (speed, location, reports) from each of its users to make the collective system more intelligent for every user. In fact, many agencies have begun exploring data trades with Waze to better plan and manage transportation networks in real-time.

Where to Start: Identify your data's point of origin and evaluate other sources of information that might be leveraged as a validator or commentary source for your data.

big+data+tactics

All images via Pixabay

Dustin Haisler Chief Innovation Officer, e.Republic Inc.

Dustin Haisler is the Chief Innovation Officer of Government Technology's parent company e.Republic. Previously the finance director and later CIO for Manor, Texas, a small city outside Austin, Haisler quickly built a track record and reputation as an early innovator in civic tech. As Chief Innovation Officer, Haisler has a strategic role to help shape the company’s products, services and future direction. Primarily, he leads e.Republic Labs, a market connector created as an ecosystem to educate, accelerate and ultimately scale technology innovation within the public sector. Read his full bio.