The former chief executive of ITS America has given a tub thumping lesson in data analytics, exhorting the public sector to get into gear and join forces to take on technology giants that could be taking advantage of them.
Scott Belcher (pictured), who now is an independent consultant, gave delegates at Traffex Scotland the benefit of his expert advice after spending seven years at the helm of the top advocacy group for intelligent transport systems in the USA.
He also served as executive vice president and general counsel at the National Academy of Public Administration (NAPA).
Pointing to the power of data analytics and computer learning, he cited work he had done with Waycare Technologies in Nevada through collating data in cloud storage and running algorithms on it.
‘We were able to reduce incidents by 17%, and we did it on an hour by hour basis. We looked at five years of history and we were able to tell you where incidents were most likely to happen at any given time. What we did was really not rocket science,’ he said.
‘We put an empty police car in that space and put a sign a mile up the road saying ‘danger ahead’ and we drove down incidents. We drove down speeding by 85%. We increased incidents response times by 12 minutes. Think about how many lives are saved.’
The system also allowed the highway administration to locate incidents better and have more efficient deployment of resources.
A similar system using telematics and fleet data is also being set up in Ohio, US, to help tackle issues around rural transport.
After this introduction, Mr Belcher gave an unrestrained plea to local authorities to get up to speed on data analytics.
10 step guide to public sector data
- Data is valuable but it is even more valuable the more opportunities you have to deploy it, and the more you network it. Networked connected data is much more valuable that data in isolation.
- Effective data management is hard. It is more than just a database. It is systems, processes security, platforms analytics. It is not what our current organisations are set up to do. And if you are not setting up your organisation to deal with that now you are going to be left behind.
- If you try to negotiate with Google or other big companies as a public agency you lose every time. You don’t have the negotiating power. So you have to become a collective - what I call a ‘data intermediary’; an entity that has enough bandwidth and enough size so that they can negotiate with the private sector on equivalent terms.
- Do not let perfection be the enemy of the good. Your IT people will tell you we can’t do that the data is not good enough, it’s not structured in the right way. It’s all bullshit. Any data is good. When they say it won’t work don’t believe them. Be agile and allow failures in order to innovate.
- You can make value out of data. Don’t be afraid. Every public agency is probably giving away data because it is in the public good. Yes it is, but it is also of value, don’t just give it away make sure you get something for it.
- If the data is proprietary, the vendors will say you can’t use that. Look at your contracts, proprietary data can be used with the right permission and it can be used in an open environment. You need to think about changing your relationship with your vendors and you need to stop buying proprietary hardware and software. Those days are going to end. There is a reckoning coming.
- When they tell you it will take months and huge amounts of cash to write APIs don’t believe them. Data engineers do this in their sleep.
- Do a data audit – what do you have, what are you using it for, where is it coming from, do you know who is getting it?
- You are probably giving data to tech companies, and they are selling it back to you. Find out what you are buying.
- Start hiring MBAs, data engineers, and data scientists rather than just structural or civil engineers. You are going to be managing data and you need people who are trained to do that. It is a different way of thinking about the world but it is going to be our lifeblood.