GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/BI softwae posts visual results
Last November, for the first time, Philadelphia used business intelligence software and visualization tools to track and tally mayoral election results. Detailed election data was analyzed and presented in a timely and accurate way that could be easily displayed for and understood by the candidates, city officials and the media.
Business intelligence software uses internet technology to make information accessible to employees via the Web. The visualization techniques employed in business intelligence software help governments evaluate budget alternatives, identify trends, and report and analyze their operations and data, such as crime patterns and criminal statistics, financial information and other records.
“This was the first time such sophisticated software had been used by the city to track election results,” says Brian Anderson, chief information officer for Philadelphia. “We could immediately see what districts were voting for which candidate by mapping the data to a color-coded graphic. This greatly improved the speed and accuracy of the reporting we saw during the election.”
Philadelphia collected polling information and entered it into a mainframe computer database. Throughout election night, the city’s IT department extracted data from the mainframe, then loaded and stored the information in an Oracle database. A minute-by-minute report was created to track voting. The report — much like a tabular spreadsheet of information — was then transformed into a visual presentation.
The visual report allowed the city staff to track voting data using advanced geographical and statistical charting. For example, a map of the voting regions was shaded red (Democrat) or blue (Republican), depending on which candidate was winning that region. The color’s hue represented the percentage lead. For example, dark blue showed that the Republican candidate had a large lead, whereas light blue meant a small lead.
The charts also showed the number of polls reporting; a pie chart showed the percentage lead in numerals. All of the election information was then displayed in the mayor’s office of information services on a large television screen for the media and election officials.
Anderson says the use of business intelligence software during the election was an indication of things to come. He plans to roll out the software to every agency and department across the city to help officials run the city more efficiently. The visualization techniques allow decision-makers to rapidly see the things that most affect their organizations and assists them in tasks like performance measurement, purchasing and planning.
“My job is to give city officials, such as the mayor or the police commissioner, the tools that can present a complete and comprehensive picture of their organization so they can spend more time managing issues rather than piles of paper,” Anderson says. “We are already using business intelligence for financial analysis at city hall and have saved hundreds of thousands of dollars by using fewer resources to achieve better results in less time.”
Business intelligence software also is being used in 34 school districts across Massachusetts to analyze standardized test results. Through multidimensional assessment, the school districts can incorporate demographic data with test results and analyze individual student performances. Schools also can determine areas for improvement in the curriculum, comparing results from different schools within one district. That can help determine if staff changes need to be made as well.