Process Flows

Big data is a key digital trend right now. Along with social media, mobile devices and cloud computing, it is seen as a potential disruptor of businesses, if not entire industries.

But data, big or small, is useless if it isn’t applied within a process. And the process is more about people than either information or technology.

Last year, the New York Times covered a story – Armed with Data, Fighting More Than Crime – about how a US city improved performance through applying data analytics. The mayor of the city – Baltimore – applied a method first adopted by the New York City Police Department.

The key principles were:

  • Accurate, timely intelligence
  • Rapid deployment
  • Effective tactics
  • Relentless follow-up and assessment

Baltimore did not put in a big complicated technology system to introduce performance management. They used Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint, and the dashboard cost approximately $20,000 to set-up. Instead, the investment was in people – four analysts and an investigator – whose salaries cost about $350,000 per year.

The original article covers the story in far more detail. But amongst the titbits are the details about how the process was implemented:

Every two weeks, each agency head would come to a CitiStat meeting, facing Enright (the investigator), sometimes the Mayor, and the heads of the departments of finance, labor, legal and information technology.  Before the meeting, a CitiStat analyst went over the latest data from the agency, pulled out the important stuff and put it in graphic form.  The agency director stood at a podium, his senior staff seated behind him, and the information was  projected onto the wall…  When solutions were discussed, there was no need to schedule a meeting with the city’s solicitors or budget director, because they were in the room.   By 5 p.m. that day, the CitiStat analyst had written and circulated a short list of commitments the agency had made or information it needed to provide.  “We expected that when you come back in two weeks you will have answers to these questions,” said Enright.

The meeting applies all four principles. They have accurate and timely intelligence. Everyone who could potentially stop change from happening is in the room, enabling both rapid and effective decisions. And there is relentless follow-up to make sure those decisions lead to action, that in turn becomes data to feed into the next decision.

Within 3 years, overtime was reduced by 30% and absenteeism reduced by half within targeted agencies. Within 6 years, it was estimated that the the program had saved the city nearly half a billion dollars and city services had been significantly improved.

It’s an excellent case study in the effective use of analytics and how the process matters more than the tools or the data. And also highlights how important senior leadership is when difficult decisions need to be made. Two non-performing heads of departments were fired early on in the process, signalling just how seriously the initiative was being taken.

Read the original NY Times article for full details – Armed with data, fighting more than crime

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