Government agencies across the United States are unleashing the power of the data they have stored for years.  Thanks to new data management solutions that facilitate data sharing and lower the costs of accessing data, data-driven government is poised to be the leading innovation of 2016.   State and local governments have already put data to work to help manage crime, address the opioid crisis, and improve the quality of life for citizens.

But why have some agencies been able to embrace their data and put it to work, while others are still struggling with how to facilitate access, share information, and make the information applicable?

The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) is one state agency took a proactive approach in data management when it launched the Reliable, Organized, and Accurate Data Sharing (ROADS) Project last year. The goal of ROADS is to have more accurate data readily available in order for FDOT employees to make informed decisions. The agency also aims to provide employees the ability to access business data more quickly and efficiently.

In a recent interview with GovTech, Florida CIO April Blackburn said that the agency found that data was “the common denominator” when it came to talking about “initiatives from a technology perspective and the other things we needed to address.” FDOT has “lots of data, little information,” Blackburn said. “We need to be able to get to [data] efficiently, share information better, and link data from different sources. We have it, but we need to know what we have and how to get to it.”
The agency began the project by surveying over 75 employees and found many recurring themes throughout their research. For example, they found that within the department, data is difficult to access because it’s scattered across many different tools and processes. Teams consistently said that they would like a “one stop shop” when it comes to data with a “Google type search engine” available to them.

The agency also discovered 63 gaps in data use, what Blackburn called “opportunities to improve what we do”. FDOT staff members began to close those gaps immediately after they were realized, and Blackburn intends to make the FDOT ROADS project agency-wide policy by 2017.

In a recent session on managing and planning for big data at the Florida Digital Government Summit, Blackburn said the agency’s current challenge is that they do not “have a unified approach to how information across [the] enterprise is managed,” adding that the issue was identified early on in the project. She also noted that the team discovered issues as they moved toward identifying where data is stored and how it is governed, as well as the development of standards for how it would be handled from a policy standpoint.

Matt Lawson, Principal Architect at NetApp believes that the challenges agencies are facing may actually create opportunity as they look to transform the “noise” into something useful. From crime mapping and prediction to acutely targeted marketing and fast food service, Lawson said there is substantial potential for the application of organized data. He cites that 90 percent of data was created in the last two years, and roughly 80 percent of it is unstructured, or effectively raw.

You can read more about how NetApp is enabling other local agencies to better services the public through their storage solutions in this previous blog post.