The value of putting data at the center of your operations
When our team at Pima County, Ariz., formed the Department of Analytics and Data Governance in January of 2018, the goal was simple: modernize our data operations so that our leadership could make faster, more informed decisions to better serve our nearly one million residents.
We knew we were sitting on this treasure trove of information that could improve county operations, but it was in different places and different formats (spreadsheets!), and by the time we manually aggregated it for analysis, it was often out of date and not as timely as needed by our executive team.
The pandemic only reinforced the need for our reporting infrastructure to get faster and more comprehensive. We needed a strategy that put our most valuable asset—data—at the center of our operations. So, after chatting with other government IT leaders and studying best practices from data-driven commercial organizations, we embarked on a data operations (DataOps) journey.
DataOps, like it’s better-known sister concept DevOps, is designed to remove organizational friction in maximizing the value of key assets—in this case, data. This agile approach aims to transform the way data is collected, analyzed and delivered to key stakeholders in order to minimize the time to value from data analytics. Technology plays a key role, but DataOps is even larger than that. It requires a strategic mindset shift that encompasses people, processes and technology to streamline and improve decision-making.
The technology foundation began with a move to a hybrid cloud environment and embracing a modern, comprehensive data platform. This IT infrastructure empowered us to automate data aggregation from across the county and accelerate analysis and reporting. Below are four ways DataOps really transformed our operations:
• Simplify data aggregation in the cloud. While much of Pima County’s data is still on-premises, we are continuously trying to push the boundaries in an effort to reach a 100-percent cloud warehouse. This gives us full visibility and transparency into all our datasets and how they correlate with one another.
• Accelerate data ingest. Our modern data platform has empowered us to reduce data ingest times from 24 hours to now nine milliseconds. The data is constantly churning, allowing my team and I to notice mass changes and respond accordingly.
• Deliver near real-time reporting to leadership. Reports that used to take days or weeks can now be compiled in 20-30 minutes, empowering our leadership with the information they need to make faster, smarter decisions for our citizens.
• Unlock HR insights. Through our DataOps strategy, we gained valuable insights that allowed visibility into employee turnover, benefits and retention. This proved especially vital during the pandemic, as our reports allowed the county to minimize the number of furloughed employees after Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued a stay-at-home order last year.
DataOps is a continuous effort that requires ongoing modernization, learning and open-mindedness to new ideas. The benefits, thus far, have strengthened Pima County’s internal operations, service delivery to our departments, and ultimately to its citizens and employee engagement. While installing software is simple and setting up source databases configuration may take a few months, the true key to improvement is creating an organization-wide culture shift that isn’t afraid to change and embraces innovation as a blueprint to the success of the overall county. As we emerge from the pandemic, there has never been a better opportunity to modernize your data strategy to truly thrive in the years ahead.
Scott Zufelt is the deputy director of the Analytics and Data Governance department at Pima County, Ariz. Prior to Pima County, Zufelt spearheaded the creation of a workforce management system at Raytheon Missile Systems for their engineering department. He holds an MBA and Business Information Systems from the University of Phoenix.