Govciooutlook

Intelligent Utilization of Traditional Data

By Sherry Schoonover, Deputy Director of IT and Chief Software Officer, City Of Topeka

Sherry Schoonover, Deputy Director of IT and Chief Software Officer, City Of Topeka

In an era characterized by virtualization and new cutting-edge technologies, its quintessential to empower governmental agencies with the best tools available currently. Amalgamation of trending applications with legacy government procedures is the best way forward to ensure efficient accomplishment of routine tasks. Our Organization is striving towards a better Topeka by providing insight into the City’s operation. Technology solution providers should not merely restrict themselves to delivering a product or service and must ideally impart assistance in myriad areas such as efficient utilization of funds, optimal assignment of resources and facilitate better decision making, in general. Our organization, City of Topeka’s cornerstone has always been helping governmental exploit available resources to the fullest for better public welfare.

Partnering To Revamp the Government’s Public Service Approach

Most government departments have been functioning in a siloed fashion and interact little with each other and bridging them is the ideal approach to accomplish efficient public service. For instance, a police department can probably share crucial information with another governmental department to ensure better governance and public welfare. Thus, it is quintessential for exclusive teams to break existing barriers and communicate with each other to reach milestones faster. In the current tech-savvy climate, government authorities are putting their best foot forward in identification of business partners who can efficiently guide them in the transition from a legacy environment to a sophisticated one. The responsibility of business partners assisting governmental agencies in achieving this change is devising a strategy to effectively utilize data that has accumulated over decades and derive useful insights. Departments should investigate the sources of information constantly piling up, identify the resources accessing them, and formulate measures to protect this information to prevent external breach of any kind. The biggest challenge is to understand the nature and format of the data or applications existing since decades. Many a times the format in which data is stores is quite obsolete and departments need to ensure conversion to a format that complies with the new storage environment, during a transition. Most importantly, assessment of the benefits of the data needs to be considered by organizations partnering with governmental agencies. During this transition, the Cities are to make open data, content, and web application programming interfaces (APIs) the new default and make existing high-value data and content available through Web APIs to create a more information- and customer centric government. We have always held enormous quantities of data - now we need to make sure we use it properly. With the evidence of data, we can spend less time developing policy and services that do not work, and instead focus on continuously improving those that do. Data is necessary to foster government of excellence. It is needed to make informed decisions. Data is more than just numbers – its information that can create new opportunities and level the playing field. It provides insight that changes frameworks and information that turns impenetrable issues into solvable problems. It is an invitation for more voices to join critical conversations. An effective data strategy supports open government goals by making structured data that relates to accountability and ethics — like spending data, contracts, staff salaries and government performance — available in machine- and human-readable formats. Being financially transparent with City expenditures and budgeting decisions helps to increase citizen engagement with the City of Topeka government, as well as their trust in City government overall.

But there is a challenge, data must be mined, it must be consistent, it is necessary to establish standards.

A Few Recent Accomplishments

In the recent months, we have been involved in a lot of interesting initiatives, which include the sharing of information about our capital improvement projects. This is part of the City’s digitial transformation initiative. Previously this information was provided upon requests or in a monthly report. It took a significant effort to collect and present this information. The challenge was that the information was not reliable and inconsistent. The goal of this project was to standardize processes for all engineers and departments and provide visibility into project information. The City of Topeka implemented a solution to capture all project information and connect this data to an online portal that is being updated on a daily basis. Consolidating information not only provides visibility into our money spent, but aligns resources, reduces duplicate efforts and increases efficiencies. Usually, data comprising of project details are generally accessed by several individuals and are vital blueprints influencing organizational decisions. Our team’s experience has revealed that many departments continue to rely on traditional document management tools such as spreadsheets or notebooks. Our assistance has helped in the creation of processes that store data in a central hub and easily accessed by managers from various departments, thus ushering transparency. Enterprises should ideally shun numerous obsolete, silo data storage documents and embrace a central security storage platform since there is a lesser probability of data loss risk.

Suggestions for Peers and Decision Makers

Irrespective of the client being a governmental agency or a private firm, technology solution vendors need to comprehensively understand the organization. To be precise, it is essential for partner firms to know the history and nature of the data being utilized by the organization for its routine processes. Additionally, measurement of the accuracy of the data being stored, learning about the users who access it frequently and how critical it is for the organization is also quintessential. Accuracy, in particular, is an important aspect solution providers cannot simply overlook to tailor a better solution. During a recent data inventory assessment, we figured there were way more than 1100 items to be included in the list. Further inspections revealed that a few data chunks probably were not encapsulated from vulnerabilities and stored redundantly.

The result of this comprehensive study of data related to a particular department should ideally lead to an application strategy that empowers a team and assists in a seamless transition to a sophisticated environment. Scrutiny of data sets is a vital task the City needs to complete to deliver a holistic, efficient solution and garner the trust of their internal and external customers. . Making datasets available to the public also makes them available to other internal City of Topeka departments, which may have difficulty accessing them otherwise, whether through fault of technology or communication. This access enables more informed decision-making and improves coordination between departments. For instance, a department that issues permits can automatically confirm there are no outstanding violations or fees owed to other departments by the applicant before issuance. A good example for the City of Topeka is the online checkbook. Expenditures are not only available for external users but internal users as well. It is easier to find vendor information in the expenditure portal than pulling the information from the City’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system.

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