Finding needles in the data haystack

IBM says, it has positioned itself to help find the relevant needles in the haystack. The company has invested over $12 billion, grown a crop of 4,000 dedicated consultants and made over 2,000 business partnerships to develop an expertise in analytics and business intelligence. The results of these strategic moves is starting to play out in the company’s Smarter Planet campaign, and here in the U.S., a cross-section of state and local agencies are putting the power of predictive analytics on display, and into their everyday operations.

Every day the world is being inundated with fifteen Petabytes of new data, generated from sensors and instruments that are meant to give decision-makers a more complete view of the business and policy decisions they face daily. From literally an infinite amount of sensors, electronic forms, audio and video clips, e-mail, Web searches and financial transactions, data is streaming at us, and from us, in all directions.

Speaking at an event in New York City Friday, senior strategy advisor in IBM’s market management segment, David Yockelson said data is growing at a 57 percent compound annual growth rate. No one knows this best than the public sector. From the public school system to police records to public health organizations, every letter of every name and every address has got to be recorded. The data must be categorized, stored, and secured. And since 1995’s Federal Paper Reduction Act, most of that information has gone from the basement file cabinets to data warehouses. But only recently has the technology existed to transform that latent data into meaningful, actionable information.

IBM says, it has positioned itself to help find the relevant needles in the haystack. The company has invested over $12 billion, grown a crop of 4,000 dedicated consultants and made over 2,000 business partnerships to develop an expertise in analytics and business intelligence. The results of these strategic moves is starting to play out in the company’s Smarter Planet campaign, and here in the U.S., a cross-section of state and local agencies are putting the power of predictive analytics on display, and into their everyday operations.

In interviews with CivSource, IBM officials and their partners in state and local government talked about how business intelligence is helping to detect fraud, streamline operations, reduce costs and help decision-makers predict future situations. Through a vast portfolio of solutions, including Cognos, DB2, Tivoli and Entity Analytics, IBM is helping agencies make critical decisions based on real-time information.

In January, Alameda County began working with IBM to create a single-view of their social security recipients. Like all government agencies, the Alameda County Social Services Agency was data rich and information poor, and with nearly 250,000 county residents receiving some kind of public assistance, the data was mounting at an incredible pace.

“When you have multiple systems like we have – across five different departments – you’ll have a situation where there’s an inability to respond to changing environments. Systems don’t talk and tools don’t talk,” Don Edwards, Alameda SSA assistant director, said in an interview. “We knew we needed to modernize our social services and promote interoperability.”

Mr. Edwards said his team worked with IBM to build the social services integrated reporting system (SIRS) from the customers’, or recipients’, perspective. When someone applies for assistance, such as welfare, food stamps or Medicaid, Alameda County caseworkers are able to see the lifecycle of their clients’ actions. And with the help of Entity Analytics, caseworkers can delve into tangential information, piecing together data using at least three degrees of separation.

“For Alameda, the goal was to improve the speed of their service delivery, while making sure people were getting only the kinds of benefits they’re eligible for,” Jeff Jonas, Chief Scientist for IBM’s Entity Analytics, said in an interview.

Mr. Jonas said his technology studies data in context, so in Alameda’s case, individuals who enrolled in public assistance carried with them a trail of information, or soon began to leave a trail, that could tie them to other people, other social service programs and other kinds of behavior that would have gone unnoticed otherwise. The business analytics function helped detect fraud and abuse, potentially saving the state and county millions, by being able to quickly identify people that are not entitled to benefits. And the new analytics system enabled the agency to detect problematic trends, such as numerous claims from the same address.

“We can drill up and we can drill down. The solution gives us a lot of ability to empower our workers and the automatic cleanup of our cases, while giving us a tremendous amount of information,” Mr. Edwards said.

Academic Analytics

In Alabama, Mobile County Public Schools System (MCPSS) is using the same kind of technology to monitor the entire academic lifecycle of each student, including class attendance, grades, interventions and any special educational requirements. The system also works in conjunction with the Mobile County District Attorney’s Office to know which students are in danger of dropping out. Real-time student information about truancies and enrollment status are exchanged with the District Attorney’s Office in order to more effectively engage youth in career preparation and encourage them to pursue an education.

The MCPSS solution also works with school district administrators to comply with transparency and accountability standards associated with the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. IBM helps MCPSS monitor funding effectiveness, track individual programs against key performance indicators, and adjust plans accordingly to ensure compliance, MCPSS officials said.

Crime Analytics

Police in Edmonton, Canada are using crime analytics to see data from the field in near real-time. With business analytics, patrol officers are able to associate trends, identify high-risk locations of crime and see response times in order to monitor performance and improve public safety. One use of the solutions led the Edmonton police force to increase their patrols due to a likely increase in arson activity, based off past indicators. Edmonton Police officials said the analytics used millions of historic incident, offense, arrest and call-for-service records to prevent crime.

At the heart of business intelligence and analytics is the ability to move decision-makers beyond a sense and respond position, to one that allows them to predict and act. For the public sector, it means faster, more accurate service delivery and broader access to more relevant information.

“[Analytics] is doing something for government and social services that a few years ago, people could only dream about,” Mr. Edwards concluded.

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