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Ohio Turns to Private Sector Data Analytics for Smarter, Safer Transportation
Ohio Turns to Private Sector Data Analytics for Smarter, Safer Transportation
September 21, 2017
Columbus, Ohio traffic

The Ohio Department of Transportation wants better, easier-to-analyze transportation data. For that, it is turning to Inrix and StreetLight Data.

The department has awarded a contract to the two companies to use a suite of data sets and analytics tools meant to provide real-time, granular vehicle information to answer questions for planners and others in the state. The contract is centralized, meaning it will be available to the DOT and other state departments as well as local governments.

It will also include a relatively new Inrix product, called Dangerous Slowdowns, which lets public agencies and drivers know when traffic is rapidly slowing down and creating risk of vehicles slamming into the backs of each other. Inrix announced the product in May.

The data will come from GPS systems in cars and trucks as well as from mobile phones, and it will be anonymous and aggregated, according to StreetLight CEO Laura Schewel. Since it will be available to multiple people with different goals, the idea is to provide lots of data and an engine able to help users query many different kinds of questions.

Schewel said that will be particularly helpful to government agencies looking to plan new infrastructure and evaluate the effectiveness of past projects. User should be able to track, for example, commute times from one location to another, or average speed of vehicles along a certain stretch of road.

“The status quo for Ohio would be doing surveys that took a really long time and were really expensive and had limited data,” she said.

That, or sensors with limited range. In-vehicle data — which is becoming easier to get, and should only become more widespread as vehicles become more computerized and automated — offers data sources more or less untethered from geographical limits and available when needed.

It’s also coming as the city of Columbus embarks on its plans to test futuristic transportation ideas after winning the U.S. Department of Transportation’s $50 million-plus Smart City Challenge grant in 2016.

The centralization of the contract is important, Schewel said, because it allows many government users to access the data and analytics they need without each going through the procurement process on their own.

She also sees the data package offering users the means to collect data from a computer at will instead of setting up a new data-collection expedition every time an agency or city embarks on a new project.

“If you’re doing a big project, collecting data can take up half your budget and half your time,” she said.

It also means that different agencies, cities and vendors can share their data and information with each other in a standardized way. Because they’ll all be accessing the same tools, they won’t need to transform data to meet different standards.

“Having a common source for data is a really big efficiency in comparison between places in Ohio and comparison across time in Ohio,” Schewel said.

Tom Hoyt, a spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Administrative Services, said the DOT contract is unrelated to his department’s experiment to pre-qualify data analytics vendors.

Author: Ben Miller
Why Performance Ratings are Harmful
Why Performance Ratings are Harmful
September 21, 2017
"Performance ratings have overstayed their welcome. It’s time to put them in their proper place— as a relic of traditional management that proved to be more harmful than helpful." - Jason Lauritsen
Author: Jason Lauritsen
Can Government Change the Online Citizen Experience?
Can Government Change the Online Citizen Experience?
September 25, 2017
New York Capitol

ALBANY, N.Y. — For New York state, tax collection is a very big business. In Fiscal 2016-2017, the state collected $71.2 billion in taxes and fees, including $47.6 billion in personal taxes. Like government tax and revenue agencies at every level, New York wants to automate the collection of revenue as much as possible. 

So far, 90 percent of individual tax returns are filed electronically. But when it comes to returns filed by tax professionals who serve businesses and individuals, the number drops to 66 percent, according to Andrew Morris, director of tax processing at Taxation and Finance.

Speaking at the New York Digital Government Summit on Sept. 21, Morris pointed out that his department has poured resources into online services and support, so that taxpayers can resolve problems and get answers to questions 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

“But we still handle three million tax related phone calls that come in Monday through Friday, from 8:30 A.M. to 4:30 P.M.," he said.

Despite the best of efforts to get tax professionals to use the department’s online services, they continue to call by phone, tying down workers. “We need to market our services to these tax professionals,” he said. But getting them to switch from the phone to the department's online services hasn't been easy. It's a universal problem in government.

How citizens behave toward online services is a new kind of risk that state and local governments are just learning about, sometimes painfully, said Luke Charde, head of User Experience Design at New York’s Information Technology Services. The reason efforts to move services online sometimes fail is due to the “cornfield” effect, he said, referring to the scene from the film Field of Dreams, when Kevin Costner builds a baseball diamond in a cornfield and ballplayers from the past miraculously appear, leading to the famous phrase, “If you build it, they will come.”

But unlike the film, it doesn’t always happen. “Government has a lot of lofty expectations with new mobile apps and online services,” he said. "But then the expected change in behavior doesn’t appear.”

Despite the challenges with tax professionals, New York’s Department of Taxation and Finance has done quite well in terms of moving its numerous services and processes online, according to Charde.

“Tax and Finance has been leading the way in online services,” he said. “There is a consistency in voice, interactions, buttons, across their applications.”

But for government in general, behavior of citizens stands in the way of ROI. “That should strike fear into us,” he said.

Forrester, the market research firm, analyzed the array of mobile apps available to the public and found that the government market can be judged successful by the quantity of apps available. But when it comes to usage and quality, the government market is littered with apps that few people consider to be good, or no one uses, including several that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce, according to Charde.

The problem is the lack of good data to analyze whether or not citizens are getting a good experience from the online service.

“You cannot improve citizen experience with just aggregate data,” explained Charde. “You have to get qualitative data from the users. That data can get you to the questions you need to answer.” 

One bad way to try and measure citizen experience is through a lengthy customer satisfaction survey. Charde displayed one survey that had more than a couple dozen questions and rhetorically asked whether anyone had the time to fill it out. Instead, an agency should put a simple quantitative question at the bottom of its app: “Was this service helpful? Yes or no.” Then the agency should add a box in which the user can explain why he or she liked or didn’t like the app. The response rates to simple quantitative and qualitative questions can be very high, according to Charde.

Besides using a simplified approach to quantifying what works and what doesn’t, Charde suggested government agencies turn to a number of techniques to improve the citizen experience, including the use of Net Promoter Scores, which can gauge customer loyalty to an organization’s services or products, or behavioral economics, which have been proven helpful in nudging citizens toward behaviors that reduce costly errors. Usability testing is another important tool.

“You can watch how people fail and learn from that,” he said.

Ultimately, a better understanding of citizen behavior and their experience with online government apps matters, according to Charde, because it can foster continuous improvements and innovation.

Author: Tod Newcombe
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