The Data Deluge Hitting the Commonwealth

The Data Deluge Hitting the Commonwealth

Since the institution of government was first proposed, the government has been in the business of data collection and analysis. But despite having an ever-growing abundance of information about the people who live in a specific locale, the challenge for government agencies – then and now – has been how to turn that data into actionable, meaningful results.

Earlier this month at the 18th annual Commonwealth of Virginia Innovative Technology Symposium (COVITS), it was clear that all of the attendees and speakers (including Governor Terry McAuliffe) have been thinking about the Commonwealth’s use of data as we move even deeper into the age of information sharing. McAuliffe, who gave the symposium’s welcome remarks on Wednesday, Sept. 7, passed Executive Directive 7, “Leveraging the Use of Shared Data and Analytics,” on May 23 of this year. In it, McAuliffe directs the secretaries of Technology and Finance and the Commonwealth’s CIO to review the state’s policies and practices in regards to data collection, sharing and analysis and to create a simple way for all agencies to share that data – by using comm terminology and technology.

In a session called “Dealing with the Data Deluge,” Michele Hovet of SAP Public Services and Diana Zavala of HP Enterprise showcased data management tools and analytics processes that could be used by attendees to exploit existing data to drive faster, smarter decisions within the Commonwealth. The challenge, they said, “is for agencies to reinvent how they handle, leverage, visualize, present and share the vast amounts (and varieties) of the information they collect.” We’re far past the point of figuring out how to collect data. Now, it’s time to use it.

To solve complex problems – like those experienced by case workers supporting elementary school students with frequent absences or healthcare workers frustrated with the opioid epidemic – agencies must work together. If, for example, that elementary school student’s case worker had access to a comprehensive, centralized analytics program, she would then have complete situational awareness of that child’s life. What if the case worker could access the parents’ criminal histories, the school attendance records of other children in the home, the family’s history of redeeming SNAP benefits, the child’s medical history and more? With that analytics and shared data, the level of support offered would skyrocket.

We already have the data collected, but to use it effectively, it needs to be analyzed, transformed into actual insight and shared with other entities that could benefit from it. No single Virginia agency is equipped to do at this time. Partners, like SAP, HPE and Qlarion, are needed to make the data come to life. Under the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) Next Generation Analytics Contract, these partners are encouraged to work with individual agencies, groups of agencies or even the Commonwealth as a whole to help contribute to the reduction of the data deluge.

There’s no shortage of data. At this point, we must focus on reinventing how we share and visualize the data we already have. Doing so will ensure that both lawmakers and citizens understand how Virginia is using the information it collects to understand the needs of its citizens and improve how it responds to those citizens’ needs.