Recently, I attended a Forrester conference where I was asked to present a question to a breakout group to discuss the application of Big Data to state government. My specific question was:
When developing our overall data strategy, it often feels like we’re pushing a rope up hill. Some clients are still vested in using their spreadsheets, and some clients feel overly protective of their data. When building a business case, how do we address the cultural differences between departments? Is it possible to promote maturity using analytics, or is it the other way around, that the organization must mature to some level before analytics are worth the effort?
To expand on this a little bit, it seems that different agencies in state government are at different levels of maturity. When we propose business analytics, we in IT are trying to come up with the service catalogue item such that any agency can subscribe from our centralized catalog of services. Often, this is really limited to the agency’s maturity to consume the service. In some agencies, we find very mature business processes that welcome analytics to provide prescriptive activities to optimize performance.
As an example, when I was in the City of Denton, Texas, we helped the Denton Police Department identify patterns in crime behavior, which prompted the department to modify police beats and times to directly address the issues. Analytics produced prescriptive actions to be taken by the police, which was only possible because of the maturity the police department had attained in the use of crime data.
In another example, we found the weight of garbage trucks, particularly the recycling of paperboard, corresponded closely with the sales tax collections for the city. Sales taxes were a lagging indicator (the State of Texas would remit sales taxes to the municipalities in the following month). To know what we could expect for sales tax, we would track the weekly paperboard collection. This did not produce a prescriptive response, as our accounting group was not able to apply this data in real time to the activities of the city. Analytics were used to preview what was on the horizon more so than being applied to change what we were doing.
The discussion boiled down to the question, “Should IT use analytics to help organizations mature in their use of data, or would our energies be better spent around meeting the agency at their maturity level and providing the service they wanted in the way they could consume it?”
There were good points made on both sides of the issue, but it was generally the consensus of the group that it is really IT’s mission to assist the agencies mature in their use of information.
So how are other organizations approaching this problem of balancing educating the user to the value of Big Data with the traditional delivery-focused mission of IT? And how does the maturity of the customer affect the application of big data services?