Government data has treasure troves of information required to generate analytic insights
Jai Mrug | September 29, 2015
It’s the year 2020, we are sitting in a room called the Health Cockpit of a prominent municipal corporation in India, and there is an emergency meeting to prevent a possible outbreak of Leptospirosis, which the municipal corporation feels it should check with the anticipated heavy rainfall in the city and the relationship between rainfall, rodent population and garbage that their in-house data scientists just established. Leptospirosis (also known as field fever, rat catcher's yellows, and pretibial fever) is an infection caused by corkscrew-shaped bacteria called Leptospira.
Cut to 2015. Currently Mumbai has already witnessed close to one-and-a-half-dozen deaths due to Leptospirosis. The age of information has raised the delivery bar for most elected governments and the institutions they run. Many subtle key performance indicators (KPIs) that governments get measured by in the minds of the voters – infant mortality rates or epidemic deaths have a far reaching impact on their credibility as well the institution of public service. Governments thus need to think proactively how they could act on the mountains of information that their many agencies collect.
And, we are not talking utopia. On March 17, 2014, governor Mike Pence of Indiana, United States, signed an executive order to create a data sharing hub in the state. This would mean that different agencies of the state would not only share data amongst themselves but also coordinate to transform that data into KPIs that would go on a dashboard. The dashboard is called the governor’s management and performance hub (MPH). The hub’s data is also set up to provide a statistical analysis of big problems the state is trying to solve, such as reducing infant mortality and child fatalities.
Cut to India. With the mass deployment of the Aadhaar card regime and digitisation of several government departments, there is data aplenty that can be used to transform the way citizens are served, improve key parameters of performance, and make governments proactive and responsive. In India, state governments have widely publicised health and education programmes that employ a vast amount of government resources. Governments often draw flak for being unable to make timely responses to a crisis. It is often challenged and caught unawares when it does not know how to anticipate the coming of a potentially debilitating crisis. Importantly, even on a day-to-day basis, what governments need is the ability to meaningfully communicate the effectiveness of their schemes and initiatives for citizens. Nothing better than numbers or metrics to tell the story.
Truly the data that the governments hold does have treasure troves of information required to generate analytic insights that would anticipate the future, even plan corrective action. Let’s take the case of aquifers and groundwater. Groundwater is a critical resource in India, accounting for over 65 percent of irrigation water and 85 percent of drinking water supplies. More than 70 percent of India’s surface water resources are polluted by human waste or toxic chemicals — groundwater has often been seen as a safe alternative. Predictive rainfall models developed by the Indian meteorological department (IMD) in conjunction with mathematical models on the availability of ground water could be used effectively by local governments to manage the water requirements and plan for irrigation. It is only when data and the related analytics from various disciplines is bought together that governance becomes effective – not only in taking anticipatory steps but also several preventive measures.
Analytics: Engine for value creation
A McKinsey and Company research (October 2013) estimates that there are seven sectors that have the potential to add in all $3 trillion value annually for governments from various forms of data analytics. These are education, transportation, consumer products, electricity, oil and gas, healthcare, and consumer finance. These are only a super set of the sectors that could be impacted. There could be several smaller set of inter related disciplines that could have a more correlated impact on the direct value addition to the economy.
Sectors such as education, transportation, and healthcare not only offer areas for effectiveness but also opportunities for governments to vastly improve their rapport with the citizenry. The benefits to the economy and the state could be manifold – from increase in private sector employment to creating more pull factor for new investments in the state. It may also help states improve health, safety and well-being of families, as well as in reducing the dropout rates in schools.
Strategies can be set up given both the performance objectives and constraints and plan for a wider set of scenarios than has been historically encountered.
For example, a study being conducted by M76 Analytics for Governance Now found that there was a strong relationship between the gross state domestic product (GSDP) of a state and the pupil teacher ratio of a state. This could also mean that the overall growth rate of the state and thus employment in tertiary sectors could also go up if a healthy investment was made in the education sector to improve the pupil to teacher ratio. We also found that there was a strong relationship among growth rates and surfaced road density, as well as surplus and actual availability of power.
This form of predictive analysis could also be used by the state to secure investment required for various education, health, and infrastructure schemes. Similarly, correlations could be found between known facts such as quality of ground water and incidences of fatal ailments. These could go a long way in developing preventive care for the citizens.
Predictive analytics could also help ascertain the right long term value that certain schemes engender and help seek public investment for the same.
The entropy of information
It’s the ability to grow by interchanging information – cross tabulation of relevant information would lead to newer insights and newer relationships that are hitherto unknown. Complex missions such as planning and managing the relief work for drought can be carried out by clubbing analytics about the weather, mapping the impact of changing weather to agricultural patterns and farmer needs and then mining the entire information together.
The use of technology can only make managing these situations easier. Once consumption patterns are known, the installation of smart water meters will help forecast the potential of water scarcity. Integration of these new data points with the existing analytics systems will only make them more effective.
The availability of newer data points with technology in addition to a wide range of analytical skills has prompted the corporate world to look at a newer form of planning – the integrated business planning or IBP – that will make for a responsive enterprise. Indeed, with the necessary infrastructure, technology and analytical skills, IBP can help the modern government become more effective and get closer to its citizens. Our nation has taken the lead in information technology services, its governments now have the opportunity to show the way to effective and citizen centric governance.
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