The amount of data state and local governments collect is growing faster than their ability to create meaningful information from it.
Although 90% of state and local government agencies have improved their use of data analytics in the past two years, four out of five say the gap between how much data they collect and the how much they use for meaningful analytics is widening, according to a new report.
MeriTalk’s “Accelerating Data-Driven Government” study also found that 89% of respondents agree that data analytics is “the lifeblood of modern government,” but 63% are still in the early to middle stages of analytics maturity, and only 36% grade their agency’s use of analytics to create meaningful information an A. What’s more, 78% of respondents said the amount of data their organization collects is growing faster than their ability to keep up.
“The biggest roadblock that they’re seeing is the lack of available resources -- mostly as it relates to the workforce and talent -- that are able to actually do something with the data,” said Mike Wiseman, vice president of the public-sector division at Pure Storage, which underwrote the study with Amazon Web Services and Intel.
Specifically, 41% of respondents cited lack of staffing and workforce expertise as the biggest challenge to meaningful use of data, followed by a lack of data prioritization from leaders outside the IT shop (37%), poor data quality (33%) and an inability to share information (27%).
“To help close the gap and help identify a potential group of data management and analytic experts, we’re seeing more customers invest in training opportunities and increase automation to help take some of the pressure off an already overworked IT department,” Wiseman said.
The chief data officer role is becoming more respected and important, too, with 74% of respondents saying their agency has one; 37% of them added the job in the past two years. CDOs can help forge a data-first mentality, look at problems from a data perspective and get buy-in from non-IT stakeholders, Wiseman said. In fact, organizations with a CDO are twice as likely to say data management is their top priority, the survey found.
Although these challenges are consistent across large and small agencies -- the fundamental need for meaningful data is the same -- smaller ones more often lack budget or resources, Wiseman said.
“You need to have the resources both from a technical expertise perspective, but also culturally. It needs to really fit into the initiatives that are set out and correlated back to the business of running government,” he said. “The other side of that is really leveraging that expertise to focus on expanding into opportunities where we can maximize the use of the data. Agencies expanding on AI and big data capabilities is a great example of being able to harness data to enhance the mission, to help solve the business problems and to provide constituents with a better end-user experience.”
Agencies of all sizes are struggling to see a return on investment in data management and analytics, the survey shows. The biggest benefit respondents report seeing is improved security (39%), while the smallest, at 32%, is improved accuracy and effectiveness in decision-making, although 53% of respondents noted improved data use for key decisions as an improvement in the past two years.
Agencies are also looking to analytics to help them evaluate their cloud choices.
More governments, both small and large, are looking at their hybrid cloud strategies and realizing they “don’t seem to be getting the bang for the buck that they expected,” Wiseman said. “And so we’re starting to see a repatriation of [cloud] data back into the state and local data centers.”
That move requires agencies to have more in-house resources and expertise – a CDO, for example. With the flexibility of being able to move workloads back and forth from localized data centers into the cloud, it’s going to be even more of a requirement that we have the expertise that’s going to be able to manage those workloads,” he said.
Still, 98% of respondents said they see data analytics impacting their priorities. The most common area is cybersecurity at 53%. Public safety (41%) and public health (30%) round out the top three.
The latter two areas aren’t surprising, Wiseman said. The pandemic has helped drive public and agency demand for actionable data, with 83% of respondents saying it emphasized the importance of a data-driven government. It started with health and human services departments and branched out into other areas, including management of remote work, which ties into cybersecurity, Wiseman said.
The biggest risk that a lack of meaningful data analytics presents is making agencies inefficient and unable to improve customer service, he said, echoing the report’s three recommendations for state and local government leaders: amplify analytics education and automation, support the CDO role, and mature their data analytics operations.
“A modern data experience should be very simple,” Wiseman said. It should be API-defined and [use] easy, common management tools so that organizations can derive proactive analytics that are actionable at scale. It should also be seamless, so our customers have the opportunity to leverage the technology without having a big strain on management.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.
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