In the District of Columbia, a promising blend of business intelligence, GIS and executive leadership gave a once troubled agency new life. Known as DCStat, the system lifted the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) from what even some employees characterized as an ineffective and unresponsive agency toward meaningful reform.

DCRA's mission, according to its Web site, is to ensure the health, safety and economic welfare of district residents through licensing, inspection, compliance and enforcement programs. DCStat helps the DCRA see beyond traditional boundaries, such as precincts and jurisdictions. Like many agencies, a number of those boundaries have been built internally over the years, while others resulted from government not being able, or willing, to share data. By implementing DCStat, DCRA can better accomplish its mission by quantifying and analyzing departmental data -- resulting in a more complete understanding of the challenges confronting the community.

DCStat is a set of systems that have come together using a service-oriented architecture (SOA), which uses software applications that run across and bridge disparate systems to create a simpler technology infrastructure and achieve a higher level of service delivery.

DCStat was created to help city leaders make decisions based on real-time data. The system also allows the city to apply metrics to evaluate and manage staff performance, and deliver the best service possible to residents.

"DCStat is a tool helping the district managers and leaders begin to make decisions based on quantifiable information as opposed to anecdotal information," said DCStat Program Director Dan Thomas. "DCStat is providing the feedback loop into those leaders and managers on how well they're doing delivering services to citizens, how well they're doing fighting crime around the city, the basic measures of how safe and secure folks feel about where they live, and how they feel about the types of services the government performs."

Tragic Inspiration

In January 2004, in a crime-ridden area of the district known as Sursum Corda, the execution-style murder of 14-year-old Jahkema Princess Hansen rocked a city quite accustomed to its violent reputation. Princess, as she was known, was believed to be a witness in an earlier murder, and was shot dead in her home as she watched TV.

It was this detestable act that sparked the Hot Spot Initiative, which laid the foundation for DCStat. The Hot Spot Initiative, designed to identify chronically troubled areas like Sursum Corda, sought to help the city more intelligently deploy its resources to produce much-needed change.

"It all started with the Hot Spot Initiative two years ago," Thomas said. "The district organized 20 agencies and brought them together in a leadership team to make a concerted effort to go in and change those hot spots, to reduce the crime, to provide opportunities to people, job fairs, different things."

The leadership team's goal, he said, was to make places more livable, engage the people who live there and have them take control of their communities.

"It was the city doing everything it could, bringing all of its resources to bear in these areas. And out of that, there was an across-the-board decrease in violent crime," Thomas said, adding that crime dropped 34 percent decrease in one year.

Of those 20 agencies involved in the Hot Spot Initiative, the Metro Police Department (MPD) and the DCRA had perhaps the most invested in the community, due to the many services and programs each agency offered that required direct contact with residents.

The DCRA -- according to The Washington Post and even some DCRA employees -- was chronically mismanaged and ineffectual. With its hands in a multitude of community services -- including, but not limited to, business licensing, corporate registration, home, business and commercial inspections -- it was crucial that the DCRA transform itself so it could

Chad Vander Veen  | 

Chad Vander Veen is the former editor of FutureStructure.