Whether it's referred to as text mining, performance measurement, predictive analytics, enterprise analytics or business intelligence, software applications that help manage and analyze data are finding their way into public-sector agencies -- sometimes with inspiring results.

Oftentimes government agencies possess the data to reach constructive conclusions, but have no way of putting the data into a usable format. That's where analytics come into play. Analytics are especially useful in areas where huge amounts of data are amassed but often not used constructively, such as billing fraud, audit selection, law enforcement and as an addition to ERP systems.

Analytics can be used to determine where crimes are likely to occur within a given time frame, as the police in Richmond, Va., demonstrated when they overhauled officer deployment on New Year's Eve.

Practical Purposes

The software differs by name from vendor to vendor, but the basic premise is the same: Convert data to streamline processes, save money and increase productivity.

SAP's platform, sometimes called a business intelligence portal, offers a data management system that organizes and analyzes data from varied systems and organizations, then presents it to users through a common portal.

"We provide full-blown enterprise software," said Steve Peck, president of SAP Public Services. "It's integrating business processes for companies of all shapes and sizes, and entities of all shapes and sizes, helping them integrate the business processes and become more efficient."

SPSS Inc.'s analytics software uses algorithms to develop "clusters," or packets, of useful information derived from statistical analysis or text mining, presenting those clusters to the user through a graphical interface.

Dallas' 311 system, though extremely useful to city residents, creates a problem for the city because of the vast amounts of data pouring through the system. To get a better handle on what the data could tell the city, CIO Brian Anderson enlisted Cognos software to develop performance measurement strategies for more effective management.

Anderson said he saw the benefits of data analysis while he was CIO of Philadelphia, where the police department spent $11 million per year on overtime. Analysis of the data revealed that a district attorney policy cost the police way too much money and manpower.

The policy called for numerous officers to be listed as arresting officers in each arrest, and all arresting officers were required to be in court with the arrestee. For every officer in court another had to be paid overtime to fill his regular shift.

"Sometimes we had 15 [officers] for every arrest sitting around the courthouse," Anderson said. "In identifying the issue, we were able to change the management practice and saved millions."

The spreadsheet numbers didn't show the trends, he said, but the analytic software did.

One key area for state and local government users of SPSS analytics tools is Medicaid fraud, according to SPSS' Public Sector Technical Director Bill Haffey. New York state contracted with SPSS to develop a data-mining or predictive analytic model that would detect fraudulent Medicaid claims.

The model included five years' worth -- more than 10 terabytes -- of data from more than 52 counties. The system uses algorithms to group providers with similar behavior. Provider groups are defined by volume of Medicaid claims, type of procedure, or demographics of their patient group. Once the software develops provider groups, Haffey said, sparsely populated groups of providers arouse suspicion because those providers are billing in unusual patterns.

Commercial Origins

The concept originated in the commercial sector. Haffey used an analogy of a grocery store manager watching shopping carts to see who buys what.

"With that kind of information," he said, "you can make marketing decisions, such as putting bananas in the same isle as cereal or maybe on the other

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor