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3/12/2010
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Data, Analysis Drive Maryland Government

Without a central ERP system or sophisticated BI tools, Maryland officials have nevertheless seen positive changes as a result of the StateStat program.

Since taking over the state's top spot in 2007, Maryland governor Martin O'Malley has rigorously applied a data-driven model to state government with a program that's being echoed in state and local government nationwide, and most recently in federal CIO Vivek Kundra's TechStat.

Maryland's StateStat director Beth Blauer attributes any number of recent important government decisions and positive changes in the state at least partially to StateStat, a program which evolved out of an effort O'Malley instituted in Baltimore as mayor there in 2000.

Changes include: A reduction in homicides and violent crimes, the closure of dilapidated and unsafe state facilities (a mental institution and a prison), increased mass transit ridership, and a decreased number of structurally deficient bridges, Blauer said.

The key to StateStat's success is several-fold, though much of it arguably comes from having the governor as its chief advocate. "Governing by performance requires a willingness to openly set goals; to openly measure the performance of public institutions and efforts; to broadly share information rather than hoarding it; and to change course when necessary to move the graphs in the right direction," O'Malley told InformationWeek in response to e-mailed questions.

All of this is still built on the underlying data -- O'Malley called accurate data an "essential and indespensible pre-requisite" to StateStat's successes. However, even inaccurate data can be a catalyst to change, Bauer said. Analysts poring over the data sometimes spot red flags, like an off-the-charts indicator, which become talking points for discussions with state agency secretaries.

In many ways, StateStat actually remains a bit more low-tech in spots than it sounds. There's no central ERP system, and no fancy business intelligence tools at work behind the scenes.

"Some states and cities tend to think it's all about the technology, and make requirements that before you venture down the path, you have to implement all sorts of wizbang, leading-edge technology, whether it's data warehousing or business intelligence tools," Maryland CIO Elliot Schlanger said in an interview, noting that tight state budgets often make those purchases impossible.

"While building on the tools you have is a nice thing to have, it's certainly not a requirement. Governments already do a good job collecting data." The problem, he said, is that they often fail in their analysis of that data.

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