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Web Dashboards: A Window Into Government Performance

Federal, state, and local agencies are building Web portals to make data available to the public, but there are still issues over what data to release, how much, and how to ensure its quality.

As governments develop more sophisticated financial management processes, they're following suit. "Public sector entities are beginning to get a grip on the budgeting and planning lifecycle and making it more automated with budget and planning tools that have the ability to project the fiscal impact and the impact of revenue of government into quality of life of citizens," said Peter Doolan, VP and CTO for Oracle's public sector business.

"It's going to be fascinating to watch because these dashboards can show everything that takes place inside financial management and performance management inside government," he added. "There's not much different between a public sector entity and a large multi-national company, and they have the same ERPs, but now they're exposing all this data."

In fact, the same software from Oracle, SAP, IBM and others behind performance management dashboards in the private sector are powering public dashboards. In another example, ESRI's geographic mapping and analysis capabilities support Uncle Sam's site. On the front end, the federal IT Dashboard was built with Drupal, with data visualization by the FusionCharts Suite and Adobe Flash. In its first iteration, the Veterans Affairs IT Dashboard employs PDF files.

The state of Washington's Transportation Improvement Board Performance Management Dashboard, which uses SAP software, offers a pie chart of the state's transportation project budget and metrics as detailed as the pavement conditions at a particular intersection or turnaround times for bid awards in southwest Washington. Visitors to Texas' "Where The Money Goes" site, also powered by SAP, can drill down to the level of the Attorney General's office spending $129.75 on printing services at Wal-Mart on November 5, 2008.

Beyond data transparency, agencies can use dashboards to strive for more effective government. Kundra refers to the "forcing function" of the federal IT dashboard—in essence, transparency leads to accountability. "It's very important not just to shine a light, but to get the A-level people involved," he said.

At the federal level, Kundra and federal CTO Aneesh Chopra have been deeply involved in getting dashboards up and running. Kundra has begun regular, executive-level performance management reviews, called TechStat, that are based on information generated by the IT Dashboard.

In Washington state, the initial goal was to modernize performance management in order to conquer financial difficulties and delayed, untraceable projects. The agency director's vision was to put a new management framework in place, then to make data accessible to the public. In addition to saving millions of dollars by analyzing data surfaced by the dashboard, feedback from communities and citizens using the site has influenced how the department now directs funds to its projects, according to Sherry Amos, executive director of industry strategy for SAP public services.

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