The Italian Workers’ Compensation Authority had a problem collecting contributions from employers. Companies frequently closed and then re-opened under another name to escape debts. In a pilot project using IBM Corp.’s analytics software, the authority identified about 1,000 organizations known to have done this. Then came the payoff – it used analytics to link more than 300 of those companies to about 200 new ones, preventing future frauds.
That was one example Liz Geiger, IBM Canada’s business analytics and optimization service leader for public sector and health, cited at the day-long IBM Smarter Government Summit in Ottawa Thursday.
“These transformation opportunities really are everywhere and it’s just limited by your creativity,” Geiger said.
In another example, the Social Security Administration in the U.S. uses analytics to spot applications for disability benefits that are straightforward enough to be fast-tracked. Once identified, about 90 per cent of these cases are approved and the average time to process them is down to 11 days from the agency’s previous over-all 97-day average, Geiger said.
“We’re seeing analytics today becoming very, very important in every aspect of government,” said Rob Dolan, worldwide industry executive for the public sector at IBM [NYSE: IBM] .
While Geiger’s presentation focused on preventing fraud and waste, other IBM executives touted other uses of analytics. Rudi Loepp, public sector industry solutions executive in IBM’s Software Group, outlined some hypothetical examples using the company’s Intelligent Operations Center, a kind of management dashboard designed for city governments.
A mayor might watch a large public demonstration unfold, tipped off by heat-sensor data and satellite photos that a crowd is gathering, then use communications tools to alert various public services like police and public transit and co-ordinate a response, Loepp said. Or health officials could use the same tools for pandemic management, spotting flu hotspots, checking vaccine inventories and monitoring social networks for clues to the spread of the disease.
Some examples of the power of analytics seem less than stunning, though, as when Dolan suggested that if hockey playoffs were held in Ottawa, police might use it to predict a higher-than-usual likelihood of crime following a game – a prediction that seems obvious to anyone aware of the Vancouver hockey riots a few months ago.
Many examples of analytics use in the public sector involve more mundane tasks – like budgeting. In a presentation on performance management in government, Dolan cited the Regional Municipality of York and the Atlantic Lottery Corp., both of which used replaced complex assortments of spreadsheets with analytics software to streamline budgeting processes.
The software helped both organizations greatly reduce the time needed to pull budgets together and make information available faster to more people, said Dolan.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency used IBM analytics software to streamline its performance management process, moving from annual to quarterly reporting. “They were very, very data heavy but information-light,” Dolan said. Thanks to faster reporting, the agency can now use the current year’s performance data in planning for the next year.
The speakers emphasized analytics’ ability to spot problems before they occur. “It’s a whole lot easier to avoid a problem than it is to fix it,” Loepp said.
Picking up on the key message about the power of data, one questioner asked Dolan his opinion about the Canadian government’s decision to shut down its long-run registry and destroy the data collected. “That information exists, that information can be used,” Dolan said. “My recommendation is that you hold on to that information.”