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Travis County, with its county seat in Austin, Texas, is one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the nation. This increase in growth drives a subsequent increase in demand on all governmental resources such as construction permits, road development, health and human services, courts, law enforcement, parks and recreation. And newer, faster, scalable technology is required to enable Travis County Government to deliver these services, while trying to stem the need for growth of Full Time Equivalents (FTEs) by either automating processes, allowing for constituent self-service, or using data to predict and allocate resources where needed. We need digital processes that make sense, which add value to our constituent’s lives and that shows a true return on our taxpayers’ investment.
"There are a few barriers to remove before reaping the full benefits of big data, data analytics and predictive analytics among the entities that comprise County government"
Travis County has large and various types of data sets ranging from social service, employee, criminal and civil justice, voting, parks, recreation, real property, and various permitting, along with an overabundance of unstructured data. We have a lot of data that is made available to our constituents and even more that is used for analysis purposes to make more informed decisions. And adding to that mound of data load stored over the years, as a general practice when upgrading information systems, we have converted and migrated rather than delete old data.
Granted, we use this data to the best of our abilities to make more informed decisions, and it is our goal to make as much of it available to our constituents as possible. However, there are a few barriers to remove before reaping the full benefits of big data, data analytics and predictive analytics among the entities that comprise County government. We are focusing intensely this fiscal year on further categorizing and classify ingall of our data, not just the traditional data sets or information that is made available for open data and regulatory reporting. Once this data is organized and placed under the appropriate levels of security and governance, we will begin to get creative by working with the different departments on big data and predictive analytics. For example, we are conducting planning on the feasibility of a sobriety center, an alternative to jail for people whose only offense is public intoxication. Wouldn’t it be great to use various data sets such as weather, alcohol sales, festivals in town (we have a lot in Travis County!) to predict the number of people that might be joining our sobriety center for the evening? Other examples also exist within social services, such as predicting service demands on our various community service centers throughout the County using data sets to see if correlation exists that could potentially predict demand and needed resources.
For the Travis County Information Technology Services (ITS) Department, we are strict about documenting everything. All requests, technology changes, project tasks and projects are recorded and tracked in a central repository. We follow an annual budget process schedule and budget for projects and departmental technology needs yearly by predicting other Travis County department needs. We do not have a charge back process, instead opting for a show-back model that reports monthly on the completed projects and service tickets by department. Performance measurement is then based on whether or not we complete the projects and refresh the technology and the number of service tickets completed. However, these input and output measures are not indicative of the value we bring to the County. We really want to take our performance measurement and reporting to the next level by demonstrating whether or not the technology services we provide effects the performance of a given programmatic area within our line departments. For example, working with Travis County Health and Human Services and Veteran Services, an online services eligibility application was developed and resides on our County’s website. Constituents can enter information to see if eligible for various social services. If eligible, constituents can then request further processing remotely, instead of having to drive to the nearest Travis County Government building to meet with the appropriate department’s representatives. But, how can we take that data and use it as a performance measurement for our ITS Department? Did ITS meet our performance goal of providing service to our constituent in a more efficient matter that added value and provided better services to the public? We would like to believe we met those goals, and that every constituent that was serviced through that application saved the county personnel resources and money by reducing or removing unnecessary face-to-face meeting, and on-site paperwork. So we need to be able to parse the data correctly to determine our true value added to the process chain.
As Travis County continues to innovate to keep up with the ever growing needs of our Central Texas population, we believe our taxpayers will be able to judge for themselves through our data transparency, and related performance measurements, on how well we are doing. We are looking forward to “exceeds expectation” on our next performance review!