As technology improves, online data reporting is increasingly factoring in to public-sector performance measurement.

But when cities are faced with slashed budgets and staff reductions, pushing technologies that embrace performance analytics may move down the priority list. In 2007, the city of Pittsburgh implemented a management and performance system called PittMAPS to collect data from 15 departments.

But although data was being gathered through the system, the city still faced challenges with analyzing the data and using it to improve city operations. And to add to the challenges, the city underwent a major financial restructuring in the late 2000s. According to Chuck Half, the city’s innovation and performance manager, roughly 25 percent of Pittsburgh's workforce was eliminated at that time in an effort to avoid bankruptcy.

The city’s financial woes made using data to drive decision-making less of a priority. Half said therefore, the data was essentially dormant, although collection was still taking place.

“Data without an opportunity to do something with it sits fallow,” Half said.  “You can always use data to say, ‘How do I streamline and improve?’ but you have to have that focus.”

To provide better visualizations of the city's internal performance data, Pittsburgh implemented Tableau Software. Using the software, the city was able to generate performance reports and analyze the data more quickly through a centralized portal.

According to a spokesperson for Tableau, prior to the implementation of the software, the city was using an email-based system to generate performance reports, which led to other cumbersome and manual processes.

Tableau Software has been implemented across all 15 city departments, but Half reports that it’s been particularly beneficial for generating reports that measure the city’s 311 performance. Pittsburgh's six public works divisions process 311 service requests, like requests for potholes to be filled, for example. Depending on the type of request and other factors, 311 requests must be handled or “abated" within a certain period of time.

Half worked with department heads to establish performance standards in order to help make employees responsible for 311 request abatement more efficient. As a result, the city saw improved metrics -- 311 requests are now being resolved in a more timely manner.

Internal transparency was also introduced with the new software. All six divisions’ performance measurements are now visible to one another, Half said. With all eyes on all the data, a competitive culture emerged, motivating each division to strive for higher levels of performance. 

“Fundamentally they could compete and that horizontal competition drove them [to act with] a behavior they didn’t have before,” Half said. “So we gave them a transparency into their own performance.”

Photo from Shutterstock: SeanPavonePhoto

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.