Atlanta’s departments aim for BI transparency

Atlanta next month will begin rolling out new business intelligence software to all city agencies in a project aimed at providing – for the first time – visibility into the performance of multiple departments.

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Atlanta next month will begin rolling out new business intelligence software to all city agencies in a project aimed at providing – for the first time – visibility into the performance of multiple departments.

The city plans to install Cognos 8 BI software from Cognos over the next 12 to 18 months for 1,000 users. The software will be used to assess performance metrics for everything from the time it takes to repair a pothole to aggregating the revenue from parks and recreation programmes, said Chuck Meadows, Atlanta’s chief of budget and fiscal policy.

The project – which will cost $2.1m (£1.08m) for the software, plus additional money for consultants to put it into place – will replace Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and performance management software from CorVu. The city has used the CorVu software since 2002, and, while it could be used for basic reporting, “as we had it installed... [it] wasn’t robust enough” for more complicated reporting, Meadows said. As a result, users had reverted to manually loading data into Excel spreadsheets to report the performance of individual departments.

While some city departments perform similar functions, they all were reporting on those functions differently, he noted. “We weren’t able to supply our budget analysts or the COO with real good data without pulling that information manually through those various reports and presentations.”

The city, which has been using Cognos BI software in its financial department since 2005, evaluated BI options from Oracle, Hyperion Solutions and OutlookSoft. Despite an existing link with Oracle – whose HR, finance and procurement software the city now is putting into place – Oracle’s BI tools and the others reviewed didn’t allow officials to create analysis models that mirrored their unique business processes, Meadows said.

For example, the city’s processes vary from monitoring high-end data management procurements to monitoring projects like garbage collection efficiency. “[With Cognos], we will be able to look at things like the cost-per-acre to maintain a park, the cost-per-work-order for field level operations and the average manpower and materials costs to repair a traffic light or resurface a mile of a city street,” he said.

The city will be able to track a person who has been arrested from the initial interactions with law enforcement to the judiciary system and within the correctional system. “Now, we’re only able to look at those cases on a department-by-department basis without the ability to track them across multiple departments,’ Meadows said.

Another advantage is that Cognos can easily integrate with the city’s disparate data sources so that agencies can continue to use existing work order management, fleet management, time management and human resources systems, Meadows said.

Mike Schiff, president and principal analyst at MAS Strategies said that government agencies increasingly see performance management software as a way to help account for expenditures.

“Voters want to know what is happening to their money,” he said. “While Sarbanes-Oxley is aiming [for] accountability in the commercial environment, the message certainly wasn’t lost on the government. The use of these performance management solutions is accelerating.”

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