Data analytics help agencies spot problems, trends in operations

Wednesday - 4/25/2012, 9:47am EDT

Steve Sossei, researcher, Association of Government Accountants

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A forthcoming report by the Association of Government Accountants outlines how federal agencies can best use data analytics to spot trends, problems in operations or evidence of fraud.

AGA interviewed eight organizations from six agencies and also sent out surveys on the use of data analytics, said Steve Sossei, researcher with AGA, in an interview with The Federal Drive with Tom Temin and Emily Kopp.

Data anlalytics is a "catchall phrase" that includes insight into what an operation is doing, beyond what's stated in a financial report, Sossei said.

One of the challenges with data analytics is knowing what to measure.

"You could be measuring things that don't make sense anymore because the underlying conditions of the programs have changed," he said.

Overall, the analysis is a bit like picking a needle out of a haystack — "trying to get rid of the hay so that you can really find the needles and hopefully find things you would not find unless you did data analytics," Sossei said.

The software to do the analytics is important, but agencies also need people with the expertise to use the technology and interpret the results, he added.

AGA is also studying ways to share best practices across government.

"The government is a big operation. There's many facets to the operation. One size does not fit all, but there's plenty of great work that's done out there that can be spread out across other agencies, and they can build on it and become successful to improve government operations," Sossei said.

AGA is holding its Federal Performance Conference in Washington April 25.