Denver taps into data hub for enlightened decision-making
A cloud-based enterprise data hub shows agencies what’s actually happening, rather than forcing them to make assumptions based on limited data.
An initiative in the city and county of Denver relies on a cloud-based enterprise data hub to identify hotspots, or areas with high concentrations of crime and behavioral health concerns.
Denver officials use GIS services and technology from data-as-a-service company Snowflake to aggregate data on criminal activity and child welfare and housing issues, for example, and uncover problematic areas. This analysis was possible before, but the process would have been challenging because data is siloed across the city and county.
With a modern data hub that pulls from newly accessible sources, Denver can join all its data together in one place and then use a data analytics tool to “show how there may be impacts that we didn’t realize,” said Kent Lighthall, director of data and analytic services at Denver’s Technology Services.
Denver is doing similar work to assign resources to combat the city’s and county’s opioid challenges, and the solid-waste department has used the data hub to prepare for fee changes and expanded services in 2023. Specifically, the department used the data hub to show how the changes will affect operations and financials, Lighthall said.
The work is part of an effort to improve Denver’s data environment that started about three years ago. The main business challenge the city and county faced was that the current technology and setup didn’t enable data-driven decision-making.
“It was too hard to know what data was out there, it was too hard to access it, there was a long waiting period if you just wanted to even access a simple database,” Lighthall said.
The idea of the data hub is to bring more data into one single source for reporting and analytic purposes. Technology Services put standard controls and approaches in place to dictate how the hub ingests data, especially to maintain data privacy protection rules.
“Being able to join those datasets and bring them together can really shed light on what’s actually happening, rather than making assumptions based on a single or very few datasets,” he said.
So far, several city and county agencies have asked Technology Services about working with them to move over datasets for analytics related to specific use cases. Access to the hub is based on employees’ roles.
Next year, Denver plans to implement more data governance capabilities with additional modern data tools. Eventually, Lighthall said they’ll apply artificial intelligence and machine learning, too, but right now the focus is on creating a solid foundation of tools and governance.
“We’re really just scratching the surface of what we’d like to achieve,” he said. “We’ve only built the data hub for analytics and reporting, but we want to step into the area of citywide data governance and actually try and automate and bring on technology to impact data governance as a whole.”
A major aspect to the project is change management, he added. The city and county are relying on early adopters such as the solid-waste agency to share their successes to show others what’s possible. “We’re going to spend a lot of time just working one on one with some agencies, saying, ‘Tell us about your data challenges or what you would like to achieve with better access to data,’” Lighthall said. “Then we are going to show them how they can do it with these modern data tools.”
Denver’s data challenges aren’t unique, he added. Officials in local governments nationwide understand the importance and value of data, and there is plenty of it available. The problem is accessing it.
“People want to use the data, they’ve been asked to use data to justify their decision-making and their strategies, but they just sometimes don’t know where to start or how to do it,” he said. “I think frustration is a fair word.”
For other municipalities that want to set up an enterprise data hub, Lighthall said the first step is to identify the need and business challenge. He also recommended ensuring that change management is in place so that the right people can help usher in the change. Lastly, agencies should consider the impact on end users.
“Whether that end user is a city agency or even if it goes so far as to the actual constituents, understand the customers’ needs and think about the voice of the customer to make sure that everything you’re doing from a technology standpoint aligns with meeting customer needs,” he said.
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.