a map, but coupled with metrics and management, the system delivered results.

Now, analytics is all-digital and can be seen in Maryland's StateStat system and even Recovery.gov, the White House's stimulus accountability website. Analytics has become one of the most important technology trends in public-sector IT. Powerful data analysis is being used for everything from driving better performance outcomes to predicting roadway traffic trends.

Robert Dolan, a business analytics expert in IBM's public-sector group, said analytics can help resource-strapped government agencies deliver programs that meet citizens' expectations.

"Really being able to use analytics to drive better financial [and] operational outcomes is where we see everything moving right now," Dolan said.

A growing amount of sensor data can be fed into sophisticated analytic software to help governments manage performance, he said. For instance, bus-mounted sensors can track on-time performance for public transit systems. Or sensors in water systems can detect leaky pipes and notify public works officials. This data can be used to populate dashboards and scorecards that help agencies gauge their performance against policy goals.

Taking a page from CompStat, the next-generation analytics also are predictive, making it possible to use trends and past performance to predict what's going to happen. Dolan gave the example of a hot, Fourth of July day. Data shows that the holiday and weather combine to yield higher instances of gunfire.

"Taking that past information, we can almost predict how, when and where we have to allocate our resources so we can prevent that from happening," Dolan said. "And we see that in social services; we see that in transportation. So it's taking all this information and being able to use it in a way to measure and monitor our performances and predict what our outcomes may be."

Dolan predicts analytics will make its way into almost every corner of government -improving student test scores and deterring dropouts, preventing crime hot spots, improving foster care, predicting traffic patterns and even forecasting infrastructure failures before they occur.

"It is about making the right decisions and maximizing resources to drive positive outcomes," he said. "It's making sure we are able to deliver services at the level that citizens expect, and at the same time don't break the budget and allow us to keep moving forward. It is ultimately about the outcome."


The Next Generation

Cloud services and new interfaces will spark innovation and savings.

In a speech at the University of Washington earlier this year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer declared that the company's entire future would be focused on cloud computing. From within the cloud, Microsoft intends to create a new generation of devices, interfaces and means to connect.

Lewis Shepherd, general manager and director of the Microsoft Institute for Advanced Technology in Governments, explained why his company believes the future is in the cloud.

"The ability to utilize storage, processing, applications, middleware and even programming environments, all hosted remotely by a third party through the cloud -

that's an enormous enabler for any state or local government to expand the mission activities they're providing to their customers and users, to stretch their IT dollars further and also to indulge in new creative innovation," Shepherd said.

Social media also is becoming capable of serving as lower-cost test beds for development, Shepherd said, giving IT shops an option other than building the dedicated systems they've had to provide themselves for years. Shepherd cited Microsoft SharePoint as an example. He said instead of building a stand-alone system in-house for a specific function, one can instead integrate social media and social networking capabilities within SharePoint and then add those capabilities to all existing SharePoint pages and sites to enable collaboration, online sharing and networking.

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen previously served as the editor of FutureStructure, and the associate editor of Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.