Citizens rely on numerous critical services from the public sector. Delivering these services in a cohesive way involves uniting a diverse base of people, processes, systems and agencies.

The first step to bridging this “information divide” involves creating and maintaining a single view of each citizen, which allows all information systems and business processes to share accurate and consistent data. Such projects have a direct impact on the quality of services that citizens receive, from social security to building permits to child welfare programs.

While IT professionals refer to these initiatives as Master Data Management (MDM) projects, public servants describe them in more practical terms: achieving a unified or 360-degree view of the taxpayer or citizen. Regardless of which nomenclature is used, these projects all have the same primary objectives: connecting independent data sources, identifying common relationships, and presenting accurate information to serve an intended business purpose.

Establishing Master Data Records

Single View projects are particularly valuable for agencies that provide many types of social service programs, each with unique needs, eligibility requirements, and funding sources. For example, Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services has embarked on a software integration project called Common Access Front End (CAFÉ) to make it easier for citizens to interact with the state’s many social programs including its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) program, Child Care Assistance Program (CCAP), disability determinations, and temporary family support. CAFÉ creates a single master record for each case, promoting greater consistency and visibility across all programs, and making it easier for caseworkers to provide knowledgeable service.

Public agencies commonly use business intelligence (BI), integration, and data integrity technology to develop such a comprehensive view of their information sources. When used together these software tools increase visibility into the services, transactions, and events associated with an individual person, entity, or group. This insight, coupled with data accuracy and timeliness, helps to reduce costs, generate revenue, mitigate risk, improve compliance, and enhance human services.

Consider the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA), which oversees 253 state municipalities and brings in $3.5 billion in annual revenue. With a vast array of legacy accounting and billing systems, the Department was having a difficult time capturing, comparing and analyzing taxpayer data. While many state agencies implement packaged software applications to replace this type of legacy infrastructure, New Hampshire DRA found the cost to be prohibitive-ranging from $25 million to $40 million for the software licenses, consulting services and associated hardware. A large portion of the budget in these projects is devoted to the data architecture as IT pros figure out how to access disparate information and put it into a usable format, or migrate old data to a new computing platform.

Instead, New Hampshire DRA used BI and data integration software to develop a “Single Taxpayer View” for a fraction of the cost of these packages. Their new IT environment includes dashboard-driven administration systems that provide a universal interface for data retrieval, reporting and analysis. The Department spent less than $1 million for all hardware, software and services. Agents can now access the native DB2 data directly, while also addressing the critical issues of data quality that are essential to their single view concept. Armed with better reporting and data management capabilities, New Hampshire now knows which taxpayers are filing and which ones are not. They can also examine patterns and trends that correspond with revenue, estimate the impact of new taxes, and judge the net effect of new legislation.

Ensuring Quality Data

Accurate data is critically important to the success of any single view of the citizen project. Data integrity software resolves quality issues that make a single view possible. For example, an individual might be listed by three different names (John Smith, Jonathan Smith, and John W. Smith) as well as by a taxpayer ID number. A data quality solution helps to ensure that each citizen is addressed consistently in all information systems. Other important integrity tools assist with data governance, exception handling remediation, profiling, monitoring , and reporting on data anomalies (see figure).

Public entities must assemble information about citizens from a network of fragmented data sources, applications, and interdependent agencies. While new software applications can help, the timeliness and accuracy of the underlying data can erode the value of these projects. By addressing the data architecture first, and employing proven MDM and Single View techniques, organizations can wring more value out of their existing systems even as they optimize their portfolio of data and information assets. This approach is gaining momentum across the public sector as agencies strive to unite fragmented people, processes, systems, and agencies.

James Orr is global product marketing director at Information Builders, a New York-based software company specializing in business intelligence and integration technology and services.