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Something To Think About: Analytical Government

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Yash Acharya
January 27, 2017

  • Scenario:

It was peak rush hour one recent morning and I was driving to work on a familiar two-lane road. Suddenly there was a huge slowdown. It turns out one lane ahead was completely blocked to accommodate a construction crane working on a new building. A traffic officer did his best but the flow of vehicles was only a trickle. This half-mile stretch that would normally take just a minute to drive through at 30 miles an hour would now cost me 15 minutes.

That construction crane has been slowing traffic now for 15 weekdays in a row. (It’s not there on weekends.) I made a rough calculation: thousands of commuters like me sat in that congestion every morning for at least 15 days.

This got me thinking about permits for construction projects, wasted fuel, increased pollution and other traffic issues.

Specifically around this and other events, I wondered:

  1. How much fuel is wasted and additional pollution generated by those idling commuters?
  2. How much money and time is wasted by motorists idling waiting for a traffic accident to be cleared?
  3. How many accidents occur at intersections with missing stop signs?
  4. Is there an opportunity for crowd funding a particular road construction project that will help commuters save gas money in the future?

Collecting and analyzing the data to answer these “analytical scenarios” could IP - Data Intermediaries Photoimmensely help governments and citizens understand the impacts of the certain actions, permits or events that occur on a day to day basis.

In my last month’s column, I discussed some ideas around the use of technologies and processes to improve transportation infrastructure and cities in general. This month, I wanted to expand and discuss how to leverage data collected from various smart cities’ initiatives to improve services to citizens.

  • Big Data and Data Analytics

My traffic slowdown scenario relates to some terms we’ve heard about a lot in recent years: Big Data and Data Analytics. Let’s define them.

Big Data refers to large and complex sets of data which may be interrelated through various degrees of analysis.

Below are some data sets that would be used to analyze the four questions I’ve posed:

  1. Average number of cars passing the construction slowdown site on a given weekday; the average slowdown time per car due to the construction; average gas mileage of a car at a certain slowdown speed; the average cost of gas; etc.
  2. Time spent to clear a particular accident; average number of cars passing the accident; the average slowdown time per car; average gas mileage of a car at a certain slowdown speed; the average cost of gas; etc.
  3. Number of accidents that have occurred on a particular street because of a missing stop sign; average cost of putting a sign; etc.
  4. Average time it takes a commuter to drive a particular stretch of road with little or no traffic compared to driving that same stretch at rush hour; average number of commuters driving that stretch on a given day;  average cost of gas; the added cost of gas for commuters  sitting in traffic; etc.

Data Analytics refers to various types of qualitative and quantitative data points which are collected and analyzed to improve efficiencies in a business, organization or event.

For each of the four questions in my scenario, data analytics is performed using data analytical tools and big data solutions may be employed to assist with efficient and effective decision making.

  • Something to Think About:

With increased computing power on devices and widespread data collection, governments can now leverage these tools to help them make better decisions. For each of the four questions in my scenario, governments could use Big Data and Data Analytics to make decisions such as whether to:

  1. Grant a permit to the real estate developer for constructing that building during off peak hours to save on the cost of gas and reduce pollution. If a permit is granted, should the developer be charged for resources to reroute the traffic to different streets?
  2. Give traffic accident first-responders the authority to reroute traffic immediately to allow for reduced pollution and less congestion.
  3. Place a stop sign.
  4. Crowd fund the construction of the new bridge or road by offering tax breaks to commuters willing to help fund the construction of that new bridge or road.

We have the power of technology to help governments collect various types of data, analyze them to solve these and many more scenarios to better manage budgets, and improve services for their residents. Something to think about!!


Author: CreativeTechNerdie – Yash Acharya is a director within KPMG LLP’s State and Local Government Practice, with a focus on assisting governments with business transformation initiatives. Thinker, coffee fanatic and government transformation passionist. Yash’ s column shares innovative ideas, thoughts and real world challenges for government, companies and the public to think about where we want to go next. Views expressed are his own.

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