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How big data can benefit local governments

Rachel Wheeler Archive

While large corporations have already been working for years to collect large amounts of data on consumers and incorporate it into their business decision-making, the public sector is lagging behind the private one in this regard. There are countless ways the government could benefit from collecting more data, working harder to ensure data quality and using more analytical tools to improve their operations, but so far, little has been done on that front.

State Tech Magazine recently published some damning numbers on just how negligent public officials have been about making better use of data. The news source publicized a survey from NetApp finding that currently, only 2 percent of state and local government agencies have a complete plan in place for using big data while 39 percent are still learning about the technology and how it could help. Shockingly, 44 percent aren't even discussing the possibility.

Those numbers are pretty alarming when one considers just how powerful data could be in public endeavors. Here's a look at a few ways in which data analysis could help governments achieve more.

Fewer wasted resources
Analyzing data can help government officials figure out how best to allocate such resources as water and electricity. State Tech used Miami-Dade County as an example. By using predictive analytics, the local government was able to monitor water consumption, identify leaks and find out how much water was needed, where and when. This enabled the county to reduce its consumption by 20 percent and save $1 million per year.

More efficient transportation
In order to keep buses and trains running on time, transit authority officials can use data to analyze rider habits, traffic schedules and other factors that influence how people get around town. Patterns in data can tell officials when more rides should be scheduled to account for increases in passengers, and when schedules need to be adjusted based on predictable traffic patterns, such as during rush hour.

Financial transparency
People often demand transparency from their government officials about how they spend their money. By using big data analytics, governments can improve the way they allocate funds by finding and eliminating potential inefficiencies in spending. Officials can break down everything from budgeting to planning to human resources initiatives, finding ways to trim funding and reallocate dollars toward initiatives where they'll help the most.

Local governments aren't always flush with cash. Every dollar they have, they need to spend wisely, and data analytics can help tremendously in that regard.