I just read a great book, Competing on Analytics, co-authored by a man who should be familiar to anyone with an interest in managing public-sector technology. Thomas Davenport, along with Jeanne Harris, got me thinking that we are ready for "what's next" in leading large-scale public enterprises.

In his seminal work, Process Innovation: Reengineering Work Through Information Technology, written way back in the dark ages of the early 1990s when we were just paving the cow paths, Davenport called on us to move beyond mere automation of traditional transactions. Today much of that work has been accomplished, and government is zooming forward with new citizen access and services.

Public-sector leadership heeded Davenport's message in the '90s because they had to. People were cruising to ATMs to bypass teller lines, and buying airline tickets and books online, yet they had to line up for hours at the department of motor vehicles, and battle for other basic services, such as getting a copy of a birth certificate. Government came under pressure to compete with the private sector in the name of service, or politicians would feel the heat. Many governments have more than met the challenge but others still lag.

Yet, public confidence in government is at an all-time low. Consider how decisions were made going into Iraq and dealing with Hurricane Katrina. Real justifications for policy and administrative actions are hard to come by in the first place, but when our federal government proves to be just flat-out wrong in its predictions one wonders: Does decision-making have to be done haphazardly? Certainly not.

The answer, according to Davenport, is for the public sector to support better policies, create more data-driven administrative work, reduce risk and take advantage of huge data assets by making better use of analytics. Analytics is the high-end portion of business intelligence (BI) that allows government to use data to predict outcomes of new or changing policies, programs, regulations, enforcement patterns or whatever task is at hand. These tools can boost public confidence and lead to better decision-making.

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Larry Singer  |  Contributing Writer