Keys to effective open data portals

INDUSTRY INSIGHT

4 habits of highly effective open data portals

Having a data portal is no longer an option for government agencies: the DATA Act is making it a necessity. 

Fortunately, agencies can take a cue from the business world, which has increasingly adopted data analysis software and other business intelligence tools that allow everyone to be data analysts, rather than letting analysis remain the province of IT specialists. The timing couldn’t be better: just as the people (and legislation) are demanding the opening up of data, the technology is there to make it happen.

Of course, technology can’t work wonders on its own. For those working with new data analysis software, here are four characteristics that can help make your agency’s data compelling and transparent, while saving time and budget dollars too.

1. Present the most relevant, recent data. Data mash-ups – bringing together data from more than one source – create a powerful presentation. Data analysis software that is agile and flexible lets you bring together diverse but relevant data. Look for tools that can automatically integrate and display new data in real-time, which will not only save time, but create a more relevant and useful portal.

2. Tell a compelling story. Don’t expect your data to speak for itself: Use the data to tell stories. Data analysis software not only allows you to analyze and visualize data, but it can help you find key metrics in the data that present the most compelling story.

A word of warning: Just as a glut of data can be overwhelming, so can too many stories. Try to find the most essential theme, and then let it stand on its own, with supporting details that explain the who, what, where, when and why of the story. For example, dashboards for National Stimulus Spending allow for interactivity, letting people dive into regions, jobs, awards, and other specific details.

3. Make it accessible. An open data portal isn’t worth much if people can’t find it or have trouble using it. Make sure your portal is easy to find in search engines and on your website. Also, use data analysis software that works across all platforms. Citizens and government officials should be able to use the data portal on a desktop computer, laptop, tablet or smartphone. And there shouldn’t be any hiccups going from one device to another. Such adaptability has gone from being a happy bonus to an expected necessity.

4. Create viewing options. For data visualization, a one-way transmission of data won’t cut it. People want to be able to dive into the data, shifting views and perspectives according to their needs. Rather than a one-way street, your data portal should be a two-way street near an intersection with plenty of side streets and options to get on the bus or train. If an open data site doesn’t support interactivity, how open is it really?

Following these guidelines can make your agency more accountable and transparent, but they can also save money and time. According to a McKinsey study, open data could allow for a combined $3 trillion a year in savings for government agencies. Many are already seeing increased efficiency.

The Army, for example, now uses data visualization to manage the military supply chain, which has vastly improved efficiency, according to Department of Defense contractor Chuck Driessnack, vice president at SAIC. “The way things worked at the Pentagon, you would brief information up to the Chief of Staff of the Army, and that was a month-long process to get through all the gatekeepers. Then the Chief of Staff would ask a question. And how long would it take us to get the Chief an answer? Forever.” Now, information flows much faster, saving time and money.

Whether your agency deals in military supplies, farming methods or math standards, the common denominator is data – data that citizens and agency officials need. It’s time to abandon the old, slow methods now and embrace new business intelligence tools. 

About the Author

Christine Carmichael is marketing segment manager for the Public Sector Group at Tableau Software.

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