How Data Analytics is Improving Life and Business in Fairfax County

How Data Analytics is Improving Life and Business in Fairfax County

Eta Davis, Economics Initiatives Coordinator for Fairfax County Government, Office of the County Executive, shares how data analytics is helping business leaders and students create innovative services for county workers and residents.

Q: What is your role in Fairfax County and how does it tie into the county’s economic success plan?

I am Fairfax County’s Economic Initiatives Coordinator. I lead the development and implementation of Fairfax County’s Economic Success plan, which is designed to ensure the county’s success through continued growth and a commitment to diversity.

The plan revolves around six primary goals. They include greater diversification of the county’s economy; the development of vibrant locations for work and life; a better and faster development review process; increased investment in natural and physical infrastructures; economic success through education and social equity; and a faster, more agile government to better respond to changing environments.

Q: Tell us a little about your recent hackathon with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).

There are a lot of organizations in Fairfax County that are focused on developing smartroad infrastructure solutions – much needed, since we have some of the nation’s worst traffic. We thought we’d work with VDOT to create a forum that brings all of these people together to basically make lemonade out of our traffic lemons.

The result was the Transportation & Mobility Hackathon, which we held last November in Reston. We had companies like Qlarion participate, and we invited students from leading area universities to interact with leaders from local startups and established companies.

It was a tremendous success. More than 100 people attended, with 11 teams working on various innovative projects and competing for prizes. Some fantastic ideas were born using artificial intelligence, smart home assistants, and even autonomous vehicle technology, which was used to create a solution to help visually-impaired people. Most importantly, attendees were able to make a lot of connections, which is one of our primary goals.

Q: What came out of the hackathon and what did VDOT learn?

The hackathon was an opportunity for attendees to kick the tires and provide feedback on VDOT’s new SmarterRoads data portal. The portal provides a wealth of information, including real-time data from traffic signals, sensors, signs, and more.

VDOT ended up getting some great ideas on how to make data files easier to download, and they were able to open the portal up to connections with other data resources. The insights from hackathon attendees are helping to create a more data-rich and user-friendly SmarterRoads portal.

What’s next for Fairfax County in terms of data analytics?

Over the long term, we want to use data analytics to help how we do business as a local government and to foster industry in Fairfax County. We are also looking at ways to use data to help make life better for our citizens. For example, we may ask, how can we use data to address the homeless problem, or keep families from becoming homeless?

In the short term, we have a big smart cities event coming up in March, and it will have a heavy emphasis on data analytics. Specifically, we will look at how data can help improve transportation, health and human services, and other areas that are critical to Fairfax County.

As we saw with the hackathon, data can be a very powerful tool. We want to look for new ways to use it to improve the quality of life and business in Fairfax County.