Big Data Makes Headlines at NACo Conference

Posted by Alexandra Ellison on July 28, 2016

Big Data Makes Headlines at NACo Conference

Former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley spoke at the National Association of Counties (NACo) conference last week in Long Beach, California. With experience as the former Mayor of Baltimore, Maryland, as well as the Governor of Maryland, O’Mally has extensive experience dealing with technology at both the state and local levels. O’Malley insisted, “We’re on the cusp of a new way of governing,” as he touched on the technological factors that are pushing counties forward.

One focal point was big data and data-driven decision making. Predictive analytics is the way of the future according to O’Malley. Many cities are already using analytical tools to keep children safe, reduce the pay gap, and diminish homelessness. The city of Boston, Massachusetts, is gathering, tracking, and making wage information public in an effort to close the wage gap. In Baltimore, the city has used data sensors to cut both homicide and children in foster care numbers in half. As more cities and counties implement data sensors we can look forward to cleaner air leading to less asthma issues among citizens, safer bridges as sensors can alert us to aging issues and pain points, healthier water and sewage systems, and the list goes on.

But, this begs the question, how much data management is too much? A County Manager from Kansas asked O’Malley the same question – with all of this monitoring, is Big Brother intervening? Or simply helping citizens lead healthier, more productive lives? O’Malley insists the best way to avoid reaching that breaking point is to be open and transparent with the datasets that are being collected and how the information is being used. We can anonymize the data and wipe slates clean as we progress forward. Government departments are facing the new task of setting boundaries and policies for information retention and privacy. As more of this technology is rooted in our daily lives, standards must be established for how and why this information is being used.

If governments and citizens can sustain an open conversation with transparent data, then this is the way of the future for cities and counties. This concept can transform government operations by automating tedious leg work on the part of local officials. It can also alert local agencies to challenges and celebrate successes. Localities are encouraged to assess their resources and personnel, along with current architecture and data sets, in order to prepare for big data opportunities. Vendors are encouraged to be prepared to respond to localities that are seeking solutions in this market and may find it helpful to share their success stories with entities that are seeking innovative solutions. In addition to the data systems themselves, cities and counties may seek out consultant services to guide them through this process. As this technology grows in popularity and becomes the new norm across states, counties, and cities, the vendor community can expect a variety of opportunities for involvement from various players with different market positions and competitive strengths.