Federal Agencies Must Rethink Digital Strategies

Federal CIOs face many challenges processing petabytes of data. But a growing number of analytic tools offer new insights to improve agency services with constituents.

Tom Greiner, Managing Director, Accenture

December 23, 2013

5 Min Read
(Source: Flowingdata.com)

Every minute of every day, enterprises are flooded with digital data from email, social media sites, websites, and mobile apps. As an enterprise, the federal government is no different.

Federal agencies and other large organizations are already confronting the need to handle petabytes of data. All this information will stress an already overwhelmed system, but it will also create opportunities for greater engagement -- citizen engagement, in particular. That will require the federal government to rethink some of its digital strategies.

[ Putting big data on a ball: See NOAA's Unique 3D Weather Tool. ]

Many federal agencies have started to use mobile technology, social networks, and context-based services to create channels of communication, but these tools might not be implemented in a way that meets the goal of effective interaction with citizens. By treating constituents more like consumers and customers, the federal government can move beyond digital marketing and e-commerce and take advantage of some of the promising trends occurring in big data.

Design for analytics
Right now, technology is no longer the barrier to gathering information. But new applications must be designed to gather the right information. That means asking questions about the problems you want to solve, and then building programs to collect the information.

Consider UPS, which installed hand-held computers and in-vehicle sensors to track package and truck movement. From this data, the company determined that making left-hand turns slowed delivery and added to fuel costs. The decision? Change the routes to reduce left-hand turns.

Similarly, federal agencies need to rethink how they design software, going beyond basic functionality to elicit data-rich answers that solve key business questions. In this way, federal CIOs can transition into business drivers and strategic partners for their agencies. The results? Better data analysis is leading to better outcomes for their customers, or rather constituents.

We're already seeing several federal agencies taking steps to improve their responses to their constituents based on some of the work we're doing with them. FEMA's National Integration Center, for instance, is developing an analytics dashboard that will integrate geospatially-based data, including data from mobile applications. This dashboard, fed with real-time, on-the-ground information, will help emergency planners predict the impact of hazards.

The Veterans Benefits Administration, meanwhile, is implementing advanced analytics to help detect and prevent instances of fraud. These predictive analytics will ensure the funds are spent appropriately and for their intended purpose.

Increase data velocity
Not only is much more data being collected, but it is also being analyzed faster than ever before. The need for greater data velocity, or the ability to turn data into insights quickly, has exploded. That has also led to a surge in new technologies to analyze data. It is now possible to scan tens of billions of records a second. Put another way, these new programs can query terabytes in less than a second.

For the federal government, this increased data velocity not only gives agency executives the chance to act quickly, but also creates the imperative to do so.

But what does this mean for citizen engagement? Constituents are consumers, too, and they increasingly expect near-real time access to data in all of their interactions. Consider a constituent who types in his address and other information into an agency website, expecting to access additional information specific to his or her needs. If the person does not get a response to the query quickly, he will likely try a different method.

To increase citizen engagement, then, the federal government must make sense of the data as fast as possible, to provide new insights and better engagement with constituents.

Move beyond the cloud
Cloud-based technologies continue to transform organizations because of the ability to store large amounts of data and large programs. Although a growing number of businesses are taking advantage of cloud services, the decisions about when to use public cloud services have become more nuanced -- and more important.

Clearly, the movement in cloud-like applications is encouraging. The National Science Foundation recently embarked on a project to modernize its 25-year-old financial accounting system to a cloud-based financial system. By improving its efficiency and effectiveness, the NSF will be better able to deliver on its mission of promoting scientific research nationwide.

For most federal organizations, the traditional approaches to enterprise architecture will need to change. Cloud-as-a-service models are changing the way technology is consumed, integrated, orchestrated, and secured, thus bringing new ways to add value. Cloud is how agencies will power future innovations. The biggest hurdle CIOs and federal agencies face today is the willingness to embrace the technology.

Better personal interactions, too
The promise of the digital future is giving way to greater interaction and engagement, which is true for large and small companies, and for the federal government. Improved analytics, driven by the capability to collect more data and analyze it faster, is driving this revolution. This is true for companies and for large enterprises, including the federal government.

Going forward, the federal government must recognize that its constituents' expectations are being shaped by the experiences they have in the commercial world and consider improving its infrastructure to allow for better online interactions. Doing so will improve not just the online interactions. By maintaining integrated communications across both physical and virtual channels, agencies can also expect to use the insights gained from digital channels to improve service when personal interactions are necessary as well.

Tom Greiner is technology lead for Accenture Federal Services.

Moving email to the cloud has lowered IT costs and improved efficiency. Find out what federal agencies can learn from early adopters. Also in the The Great Email Migration issue of InformationWeek Government: Lessons from a successful government data site. (Free registration required.)

About the Author(s)

Tom Greiner

Managing Director, Accenture

Tom Greiner is Managing Director and the technology lead for Accenture Federal Services.

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