COMMENTARY: Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel says in his recent White House Blog: “Through reporting of new operational metrics, the updated IT Dashboard provides unprecedented insight into the performance of each major IT investment in the federal government in order to ensure that each IT dollar is being spent most effectively.”

So why not make this one of the state-of-the-art shared services VanRoekel is trying to achieve? Why not put all the data in memory in dashboards so it can be in motion and give immediate insights?

I did this elsewhere. There was no need to download the data sets, open them in Excel, and sort, filter and graph them to gain insights into government IT investment performance. It can all be done automatically when the data is in memory, live in the dashboard and can be readily updated as the agencies update their input data.

Since I recently wrote about the discussion draft for Federal Information Technology (IT) Shared Services Strategy “Shared First” issued by VanRoekel in December, I followed the design principles it contains and noted what I did specifically for an improved Federal IT Dashboard:


  • Standardization: “Shared service providers must leverage consistent standards that streamline functions across the Federal Government. This enables communication, data sharing and function use across all agencies. It eliminates the use of decentralized and inconsistent resources to create new, unique solutions throughout agencies in response to a single set of federal requirements. (author’s note: The shared data service supports the Sitemap and Schema Protocols and a Web Oriented Architecture.)
  • Visibility: “A government-wide shared services catalog helps agencies discover the wide array of available services. This enhances the potential for service integration as some agencies will develop shared services for those functions not already being provided. (author’s note: This is a government wide catalog of IT investments that helps agencies discover existing services.)
  • Reusability: “Shared services harness a way to support duplicated agency functions throughout the mission areas. This reduces the potential for development and maintenance costs by using repeatable services.” (author’s note: This is a government wide catalog of IT investments that helps agencies avoid duplication of services.)
  • Platform independence: “Agencies no longer need to worry about integrating with their current platforms in-house. Shared services providers ensure a stable infrastructure and can manage systems changes and updates within a controlled environment.” (author’s note: This platform imports many different data formats and makes data services that export the data in standard formats for reuse.)
  • Extensibility: “The basic shared services of a provider can be used as building blocks for other services that consumer agencies need. Services can be scaled up or down, based on demand.” (author’s note: The Amazon Cloud is elastic and so are the applications I used that are hosted there.)
  • Location transparency: “Users of shared services access the services from anywhere within the shared service network. This increases availability and end user access to strengthen SLAs between the provider and the services consumer.” (author’s note: This is noted in the Amazon Cloud with SLAs.)
  • Reliability: “Services provided are robust and stable with service continuity capabilities to minimize critical system outages to levels established by SLAs.” (author’s note: This is hosted in the Amazon Cloud with SLAs.)

  • Component #1: Requirements. This includes the strategic and tactical requirements for the type(s) of functionality that the service has to provide to consumers. The number and type of functional requirements depends on the type of service area, number and diversity of participating agencies, sensitivity of information and data being exchanged. (author’s note: I reproduced the requirements and functionality of the new Federal IT Dashboard.)
  • Component #2: Workflow. These are the business processes that function through the shared service. The design of the process must be such that the functional requirements from Component #1 are supported. (author’s note: I made the business process of the new Federal IT Dashboard more complete by putting all the data in memory and the metadata in linked open data format.)
  • Component #3: Data Exchange. This is the part of the business process in Component #2 that involves the creation, exchange, manipulation, storage, or deletion of data and information. (author’s note: The application supports the data business processes needed.)
  • Component #4: Applications. This includes the software and hardware that provide the functionality and data exchange capabilities that are identified in Components #2 and #3. (author’s note: The software and hardware provide more functionality and data exchange than the new Federal IT Dashboard.)
  • Component #5: Hosting. This is the infrastructure that the application(s) are hosted in. This includes cloud-based, client-server hosting solutions. (author’s note: This is hosted in the Amazon Cloud with SLAs.)
  • Component #6: Security and Privacy. These are the various types of logical, physical, process, and personnel controls that achieve required levels of protection and risk mitigation for the shared service. (author’s note: The applications used have received security certifications and this is hosted in the Amazon Cloud with SLAs that provide for security and privacy protections.)
The IT Dashboard team says:

“We are always looking for ways to improve analytical capabilities and user experience. Some additional features the public should expect to see in the coming months include: visualizations for operational performance and activities, additional improvements in search capabilities, Treemap enhancements, etc. User feedback is always appreciated and can be submitted via the Feedback link at the top of each page.”

Keep reading →

Big data science visualizations have evolved from the use of proprietary data (past), to difficult-to-obtain-and-use big data (present), to the hope that business, finance, media, and government big data will be more readily available and useable in the future.

That future appears a ways off, however, given my experience with several recent projects and judging from some of the presentations at the just-concluded O’Reilly Strata Conference.

The Strata Conference is billed as the home of data science, that brings together practitioners, researchers, IT leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss big data, Hadoop, analytics, visualization and data markets.

I was especially interested in learning more about public domain data sets and how far they’ve evolved in their ability to to be used.

One way to look at that evolution is through an analysis of content from the past three Strata conferences, looking at the number of presentations by category. I was motivated to do this in part because of a previous story I read that government, real estate, and manufacturing had the highest value potential for big data in the future. Keep reading →

The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) demonstrations that began Sept. 17, 2011, in New York City’s Zuccotti Park in the Wall Street financial district, launched by the Canadian activist group Adbusters have become a worldwide movement. The protests have focused on social and economic inequality, high unemployment, greed, as well as corruption, and the undue influence of corporations-particularly that of the financial services sector-on government. The message is perhaps best summed up with the protesters’ slogan, “We are the 99%,” referring to the growing difference in wealth in the U.S. between the wealthiest 1% and the rest of the population.

One measure of inequality is the Gini coefficient which is a measure of statistical dispersion developed by the Italian statistician and sociologist Corrado Gini and published in his 1912 paper “Variability and Mutability” (Italian: Variabilità e mutabilità).

The Gini coefficient is a measure of the inequality of a distribution, where a value of 0 expresses total equality and a value of 1 maximal inequality. It has found application in the study of inequalities in disciplines as diverse as sociology, economics, health science, ecology, chemistry, engineering and agriculture.

For example, in ecology the Gini coefficient has been used as a measure of biodiversity, where the cumulative proportion of species is plotted against cumulative proportion of individuals.

The Gini coefficent for Income Disparity in the CIA Fact Book of 2009 shown above is where 0 is perfect equality and 100 is perfect inequality (i.e., one person has all the income). Worldwide, Gini coefficients for income range from approximately 0.23 (Sweden) to 0.70 (Namibia) although not every country has been assessed.

While developed European nations and Canada tend to have Gini indices between 0.24 and 0.36, the United States’ and Mexico’s Gini indices are both above 0.40, indicating that the United States (according to the US Census Bureau) and Mexico have greater inequality.

Using the Gini coefficent can help quantify differences in welfare and compensation policies and philosophies. However it should be borne in mind that the Gini coefficient can be misleading when used to make political comparisons between large and small countries. The Gini index for the entire world has been estimated by various parties to be between 0.56 and 0.66.

I created an interactive dashboard of the GINI coefficient and other world country statistics from the CIA Fact Book and used it to identify the top ten highest GINI coefficient countries and the US position as follows on a 100 point scale: Honduras 56.3, Nicaragua 60.3, Colombia 57.10, Brazil 60.70, Bolivia 58.9, Paraguay 57.7, Chile 56.7, Sierra Leone 62.9, Central African Republic 61.3, and South Africa 59.3. The United States at 40.8 is ranked about 40th out of 239 Counties.

The data set and related information are available on my social knowledgebase.

So while the United States has greater inequality (40.8) according to the U.S. Census Bureau than countries such as Canada, France, Spain, and Australia (see map above), it is lower than the world average index (0.60 ) and is not among the top ten countries (62.9-56.3).

When I saw this interactive budget image (the treemap above) issued by the White House, I thought it could actually be made clearer and really interactive with visualization tools like one I use (Spotfire) with just a little effort.

I also thought that all the data files provided by the White House for the fiscal year 2012 Budget could also be made clearer and more accessible in a spreadsheet so I decide to provide that service for our readers. Keep reading →

Someone suggested I review the new IBM Center for The Business of Government report on Use of Dashboards in Government by Sukumar Ganapati, Florida International University, pointing out one irony off the bat: There aren’t a lot of examples of dashboard illustrations in this report. So I first decided to create a dashboard of this PDF report in my social knowledgebase and use it to analyze the report, and reference all of my dashboard work relating to most of the examples in this report.

The report lists the following 11 dashboards (with links to my 7 recreated dashboards added): Keep reading →

I recently visited the Crystal City, Va., office of one of the technology companies we work with and learned what it takes to display many sources of brilliant video across a surface of any size without the unsightly black grids that once defined video walls. The technology, referred to as collaborative telepresence or CTP, was developed and battle-tested in the rough-and-tumble oil and gas industry. It is now finding its way into high-end collaboration environments in the government.

Instead of multiple monitors or projectors separated by a grid of dividing lines, like traditional video teleconferencing or command and control systems, Cyviz mounts high power projectors with pixel-perfect alignment so there are no “seams” in these stunning video walls. Keep reading →

The highlight of yesterday’s Geospatial Summit for me was mention of the National Hydrography Data Set.

Tommy Dewald (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) and Keven Roth (U.S. Geological Survey, retired) set about the task of developing a surface water dataset of the nation in the 1990s with a vision to create a solution for the 21st century, when suitable water resources would become critical. What oil was for the 20th century, water would be for the 21st century. Keep reading →

“November 5, 2011 – Anonymous hackers promise to destroy Facebook.” See Live Feed.

A headline and story this morning that caught my eye: Hackers Again Target Transit Police Union Site. The hacker group Anonymous again targeted a California transit agency that came under fire last week for turning off cell phone service in its stations to thwart a potential protest. Hackers gained access to the web site and posted personal information about more than 100 officers. Keep reading →

The use of dashboards in the federal government took off when President Obama released his Open Government initiative in early 2009. Here’s a snapshot of where they are today, and some lessons learned from the pioneers.

Vivek Kundra is leaving the federal government after having served as its first chief information officer. Probably one of his most visible initiatives was to create the IT Dashboard which he used to publicly track the performance of information technology investments across federal agencies. There’s even a picture of President Obama studying Vivek’s on-line IT Dashboard! Keep reading →

Last week, President Barack Obama kicked off his first Twitter town hall with – what else? – a tweet.

“At 1:53 PM Today (July 12), from the White House: I am going to make history here as the first President to live tweet,” he wrote.

And then he sent another tweet to get the conversation really going: “Today 2:07 PM Obama says: in order to reduce the deficit, what costs would you cut and what investments would you keep – both.”

Before it ended about an hour later, a number of well-known tweeters (e.g. House Speaker John Boehner) and lots of lesser known folks had tweeted hoping to catch the President’s attention and get a personal response to their question or comment.

While lots of commentary has already and will be written about this historic event, I thought I could provide something different (wearing my data scientist/data journalist hat) and parse his tweets, and those of previous town halls, if I could just recover the tweet steam. I used Searchtastic to retrieved 346 Tweets for visualization. Keep reading →

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