Analytics helps agencies turn data into decisions

Wednesday - 11/30/2011, 7:00am EST

John Palguta, Vice President, Partnership for Public Service

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By Jack Moore
Federal News Radio

Data analytics is all the rage in improving federal agency performance.

Agencies have been collecting performance data since the idea was enshrined in the Government Performance and Results Act of 1993, which set requirements for strategic plans and annual performance reviews.

The law was last amended in 2010 to include public reporting of key goals to promote transparency and accountability.

A new report from the Partnership for Public Service and IBM's Public Sector Business Analytics and Optimization Practice points to the importance of analytics in measuring agency performance.

But the report emphasizes that data collection is only the first step in turning facts and figures into usable information — moving from data points to decision points.

"Virtually every agency collects data but many struggle to turn the information into useful information that can in­form and drive decisions," the authors of the report write in the introduction.

But those agencies that have learned how to harness the profusion of data have reaped benefits both for their agencies and for the public they serve, the report stated — especially in the current economic climate.

In tight fiscal times, effective analytics is valuable to ensure "we're getting the most out of every dollars spent," said John Palguta, vice president of the Partnership, in an interview the Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Amy Morris.

Federal employees and the public can agree on the results that government must achieve. But, Palguta said, "Without good measures, without good data to track progress, to foster collaboration, to increase transparency so the public knows what's being achieved, it can be difficult to know if you're getting the results to drive towards that."

The report analyzed a range of agency programs and identified best practices.

Programs surveyed include:

  • The Federal Aviation Administration's Safety Management System

  • The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services nursing-home program

  • Social Security's customer service initiatives

  • The Housing and Urban Development and Veterans Affairs Department's veteran housing program and

  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's "Click it or Ticket" public-safety campaign.

The authors of the report make clear data analytics is more than just the collection of data.

"Broadly defined, it is the extensive and systematic use of data, statistical and quantitative analysis and explanatory and predictive models to drive fact-based actions for effective management."

More simply, analytics is the method of turning often obscure data points into usable information.

While each of the programs varied, there were some commonalities:

  • Leaders focused on transpar­ency, accountability and results.

  • Staff had a clear line of sight from where they stood to the desired goals and outcomes

  • Agencies invested in technology and talent

  • Agencies cultivated partnerships across the agency

A final attribute of successful data analytics is the long-term effort required.

In the conclusion to the report, the authors say the efforts to transform data into decision-making is not a short-term effort, "but an evolutionary process that takes time and commitment."