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This article was originally published on the VM blog. Industry executives and experts share their predictions for 2022. Read them in this 14th annual series exclusive.

It can be easy to start the new year with an endless list of new IT goals, projects and implementations to pursue. However, top of mind for me is ensuring that an organization has strong data capabilities. These are no longer “nice to haves.” To succeed in 2022, and more importantly, help to address some of the broader challenges we’re experiencing like responding to the pandemic and improving equity, organizations need to prioritize data governance and using data in creative ways.

Data Governance Will Be King

Keeping data accurate requires data governance to be an integral part of the data process. To do this effectively, organizations need to invest in resources and create a cultural shift in how they think about data. This needs to be driven by both the leaders in the organization and those who get value out of the data. Many organizations are successful with data governance by incorporating data governance into everyday processes and tasks. Even starting with small changes can have a big impact. For example, city planners can update GIS or utility data as part of their plan review process, or inspectors can update country property data as a regular part of an inspection. Organizations can also shift to a data-centric culture by ensuring everyone has access to the data they need to make their jobs easier. Dashboards with key information and publishing to relevant users can go a long way in helping everyone understand the power of data.

Once this culture exists, strong data governance can create countless new possibilities for an organization. For example, data is critical to improving customer experience. As more and more services are delivered online, organizations need to use data to create a frictionless experience for customers across different touchpoints. Data also provides a holistic view of a customer across channels, email addresses, devices and timelines – creating a single source of truth for each person. Understanding each customer or resident is necessary to best anticipate their needs and boost engagement.

Machine Learning and AI Will Maximize the Power of Data

More organizations will also use machine learning and AI to leverage their data in new ways, improve outcomes and automate manual processes to create new efficiencies. Accela is working with government agencies to help them issue more permits and business licenses without any human intervention thanks to these technologies. One example of this is how some cities are automating the solar permitting process, so that contractors can submit applications, request inspections, view status updates, and pay outstanding fees remotely through an online portal.

Such systems also use algorithms developed from analysis of past data to determine which applications meet the requirements for automated permitting. Not only does this help us to be flexible as we respond to the pandemic, it also allows for a more consumer-friendly experience and helps organizations to meet people where they are – whether at home or on-the-go.

I’ve also seen an interesting example of this in action. As communities look to support their recovery efforts, these technologies can also improve inspectors’ efficiency. Agencies will analyze data from past inspections to identify high risk facilities and understand how to best focus and address their workload. This has helped communities to reopen strategically and chart their path forward.

Data Will Be Critical to Creating Equity

Data will also help organizations to determine if they are serving their customers fairly. I’m seeing Accela’s government customers use data in new ways to ensure equity in their communities and drive necessary policy changes. For example, data can be used to examine how many building permit applications are approved or denied in specific areas of a city or across different demographics.

Understanding if their basic level of service is equitable is a first step. If there are discrepancies, organizations and agencies are digging deeper to find the causes, such as specific policies or unbalanced resource allocation. This empowers them to take immediate action to mitigate potential inequities and be responsive to residents’ or customers’ needs.

Why does this matter for tech leaders? We’re seeing more and more calls to increase data transparency – both with governments and private companies. Sharing data with the public increases transparency, improves trust and reduces resource requirements to fulfill these requests. For governments specifically, this also allows the public to do their own analysis and draw their own conclusions about government operations. However, to do this successfully, agencies need to prioritize a simple and accessible user experience through things like data visualizations and storytelling. Numbers in an Excel spreadsheet do not mean much to most people – but there are many creative ways to translate these findings into a meaningful story that customers and residents will appreciate.

Data is certainly a science, but in the coming year, we’ll also see it viewed more as an art too. By looking at numbers and analytics with a curious and creative perspective, organizations will be able to address some of our biggest challenges, make meaningful changes and build stronger relationships.


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