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Posted by Parul BhandariGovernment Industry Solutions Lead, Worldwide Public Sector
History has demonstrated time and again that when available technology catches up to ideas, extraordinary things can happen. The combustion engine, the airplane, and the personal computer are just a few examples of this principle at work. Similarly, today’s public-sector organizations are able to credibly deliver on a promise that politicians and policy pros have long imagined: data-driven, outcome-oriented governance.
What’s Driving the Evolution of ‘Smarter’ Government?
What innovation is enabling this shift? Like their counterparts in the business community, government agencies are embracing technologies for analyzing Big Data to gain important insights. Today’s technology makes it easier than ever to aggregate, synthesize, and report on data from across multiple systems. As a result, savvy leaders are quickly realizing the enormous value embedded in information that, until now, has languished in stand-alone spreadsheets.
Even in government circles, data-driven decision making is not an altogether new concept. Yet, it is only in the past few years that government agencies have transitioned from simply collecting data to systematically using it to inform decisions, cut fraud and waste, boost efficiency, and deliver more personalized citizen service. Increasing public demand for access to government information, shrinking administrative budgets, and the evolution of software tools for processing massive amounts of data have all played a role in this shift.
Forward-thinking government entities have harnessed the power of cloud data storage solutions, robust analytics tools, and the huge expansion in Web services with open APIs, to more easily manage and share public data. Below are just a few of the many compelling examples from around the world of transparent, results-oriented government in action.
Kenya’s Open Data Initiative
In 2011, Kenya began publishing government data to a single online portal, making it the first developing country to launch such a site and only the second nation on the African continent to take this step. The Kenya Open Data Portal provides centralized access to economic and human development data at the national, provincial, and county level.
To date, more than 500 data sets have been uploaded to the site and traffic has been consistently strong. The site continues to receive approximately 100,000 page views a month, most from within Kenya. Yet, even with this success, government leaders recognize the need to go beyond simply making statistics available online.
In concert with the World Bank, the country recently unveiled a program called Code4Kenya, which provides funding to support the rapid development of software applications that incorporate public data.
One app developed under this program, called FindMySchool, enables users to determine the performance of individual schools by region on national standardized tests.
Paul Kukubo, CEO of Kenya’s Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Board, summarized the impact of Open Data projects in his country: “For the first time ever, people in our communities will be empowered to choose the best schools for their children, locate the nearest health facility that meets their needs, and use regional statistics to lobby their constituency representative for better infrastructure and services in their country.”
Comparing Healthcare Costs in the U.S.
The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) grabbed front page headlines nationwide when it released the prices that hospitals charge for the 100 most common inpatient procedures. Until CMS published this information in May 2013, these rates were carefully guarded by each facility, akin to the way a trade secret might be protected. The results uncovered in the data were astounding. For example, it turns out that the difference in the charges (before reimbursement) between two hospitals in the city of Miami for a permanent pacemaker implant is $61,000.
Many government organizations, including Kenya and CMS, are using their data to meet citizen demand for more efficient and responsive services with the help of open data solutions from Microsoft's partner Socrata.
A growing number of high-profile public-sector organizations are also meeting the “open data mandate” using the Socrata Open Data Platform on Windows Azure. They are using this solution to quickly launch comprehensive data portals where citizens can search, browse, and interact with public data sets—all in one place.
To learn more about how other government organizations are seizing the power of public data to transform government, please see the full whitepaper.
 The data from the CMS study is available at: Data.CMS.gov