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A New World for Data and Analytics in Government

Editor’s Note: This is a two-part series featuring insights from the Alteryx Government Data Summit. Part one highlights key takeaways from speakers at the event.

Since March of 2020, we have operated in a strange new world. The coronavirus pandemic has not only disrupted our individual lives, but it’s put many sectors of the economy in peril, and arguably no industry has faced as many challenges as government.

Government organizations — from the smallest counties to large-scale federal agencies — have had to weather challenges related to workforce disruption, elevated demands for service, and the imperative to digitally transform.

Not only that, but the pandemic has also threatened our overall sense of connectedness. Dr. Brené Brown describes this connection as “the energy between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued.” To build a deeper sense of connectedness, Dr. Brown encourages leaders to “build a culture where people can take chances, innovate, and speak the truth.”

While the pandemic has changed and disrupted many of our normal perceptions of connection, many public sector organizations have innovated to find new ways to connect, engage people, and digitally transform. Central to this transformation has been the organizational ability to harness the power of data and digital capability to create insights, inform decisions, and unleash the creativity and domain expertise of existing resources to solve critical business challenges.

Fueling the Power of Connectedness

The inaugural Alteryx Government Data Summit held virtually on February 18, 2021 attracted leaders from across the public sector to connect and discuss a wide array of topics related to the importance of data and analytics in this strange new world we are all experiencing. Below are my takeaways from the event.

"New York is not dead"

One of the highlights of the event was a discussion with Martha Norrick, Acting Chief of the Analytics Office, City of New York. While New York has been the focus of attention for much of the COVID pandemic, Norrick explained how the focus on data and building a stronger culture of analytics has helped the City weather the storm and position it for a strong recovery.

While the public health crisis had significant impact, COVID created opportunities to learn, analyze new data, and build new insights. Case in point: Through the establishment of the City’s Emergency Food Delivery system, analysts were able to create new levels of insights on food insecurity issues enabling leaders to develop policies and actions to handle the next emergency.

Better Access to Data will Empower Service Delivery for the Federal Government

Nick Sinai, Senior Advisor, Insight Partners, had a discussion with Dr. Ted Kaouk, CDO, USDA, on how a robust data strategy must be at the heart of the ability to achieve most objectives at the USDA and within many federal agencies.

Dr. Kaouk laid out four imperatives that leaders at the USDA are focused on to improve the use of data and analytics:

  1. Creating a strong structure around data governance
  2. Building a strong data-driven culture focused on upskilling resources
  3. Integrating data and analytics across a unified platform of capabilities
  4. Democratizing data to make it accessible to users internally and externally

A similar approach to data is taking hold at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Dr. Susan Gregurick, Associate Director for the Office of Data Science, NIH, is leading an effort to build a more seamless approach to sharing and reusing data across the research ecosystem.

The guiding principles at NIH are FAIR — the quest to make data findable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable.

In this vein, NIH will be implementing a new data sharing and management policy which requires grant applicants to articulate their plan to share data from the intended project. The data science leadership team at NIH believes that the democratization of data — with the right level of governance — is critical, and they are focused on ways to streamline the process of accessing and sharing data.

The recommendation from Dr. Gregurick to other data and analytics leaders is to map out a strategy, talk to the users of data, identify common issues, needs, and goals to help inform the strategy, and make the strategy a living document.

Leveraging unstructured data and geospatial analytics to accelerate outcomes

Closing out our guest speakers was Avinash Varma, Reveal Global Consulting, and Michael Depue, Atkins Global. Both shared insights on how a robust unified analytics platform like Alteryx has enabled federal agencies to scale key processes with Analytic Process Automation.

For example, Reveal is helping the U.S. Census leverage insights gleaned from satellite imagery to track building construction starts and progress. This ability to leverage unstructured data helps the agency move away from a reliance on manual surveys and streamlines the creation of insights used to report on a leading economic indicator.

Atkins is helping FEMA utilize predictive and geospatial capabilities within the Alteryx platform to better automate the collection and analysis of storm damage on buildings in hurricane ravaged Puerto Rico. With this capability, Atkins helped FEMA fill in gaps related to building data and optimize decisions on where to deploy physical inspectors. This use of predictive and geospatial analytics saved millions of dollars and more importantly sped up the recovery process allowing people and communities to get to the task of rebuilding more quickly.

I want to thank the speakers and participants who joined the Summit to progress the vital discussion around how government agencies can and need to progress the course of advanced analytics to optimize resources, improve service delivery, and accelerate mission outcomes.

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