Government still in the 'primordial slime' of using data

State and local governments could provide much better services to citizens if they can figure out how to put their vast stores of data to use, a panel of industry analysts told an audience of state chief information officers.

Governments are sitting on a tremendous amount of data sets that could be used to study their operational activities, said Chris Dixon, manager of state and local industry analysis with Deltek, a market research firm. State governments need to harness business intelligence and put analytics to good use, Dixon said.

“In my opinion, we are still in the primordial slime in terms of using [data]. We are tadpoles just waiting to crawl out on the soil of using this data,” Dixon said Oct. 3 during a morning session on the next technology trends and solutions at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers annual conference in Denver.

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Dixon was asked by Bill Roth, chief information technology architect for Kansas’ Transportation Department, about what state government’s are ignoring that CIOs should be paying attention to.

One thing is putting available data to use. The federal government’s website has interesting information, Dixon said, “but I don’t know as a citizen what I should do with that data.”

Chicago has a project,, wherein people can pull information that tells them how many linguistically isolated households are in the greater Chicago area, those are homes where no one is a functional English speaker.

“That is interesting but what do we do next?” Dixon asked.  “Do we put together a map to show where the linguistic services are around this area?”  Moreover, “where are our social services operating in these worlds?” he asked.  “Should there be a partnership between non-governmental organizations amongst the counties?” 

“Let that data start to drive a natural point of interaction,” he said.

“We [haven’t] seen even the tip of the iceberg of what we can do with business intelligence,” Dixon said. Rather than publishing report cards, state governments could focus on where they should go from here and how to share data with other organizations and let them crunch it and offer up solutions.

When it comes to analytics, “I think the government is doing as much as the private sector is doing,” said Andrea Di Maio, vice president and distinguished analyst with Gartner Research.

However, analytics can be used to help connect the dots of how employees within organizations are using data. “Nobody has any idea of how people are using their data,” he said.

Government managers have to step back and ask who needs more data within their organizations and how that data can be used for other parts of the organization, Di Maio noted.

“That sort of viewpoint of how to connect the dots is missing,” but it is not difficult to get there; it just requires a different way of thinking by CIOs, he said.

State CIOs are facing multiple challenges, such as budget constraints and operational problems that constantly need attention, said Thom Rubel, vice president of research with IDC Government Insights.  As they make IT investments, the challenge is to do it pervasively to ensure that investment helps to build a new environment wherein analysis of data can lead to improved operations, Rubel said.

The NASCIO 2011 Annual Conference is being held Oct. 2-5 in Denver. The conference opened with a riveting keynote by retired Navy Commander Kirk S. Lippold, who was the commanding officer of the USS Cole when it came under a suicide terrorist attack by al-Qaeda in the port of Aden, Yemen, Oct. 12, 2000.

Lippold used that attack as a backdrop to convey how crisis management involves acting during the moment of the crisis and, at the same time, thinking a head to address future issues or problems.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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