4 smart ideas from government that you may want to steal

Fri, 2015-05-01 06:00 -- SCC Staff

InformationWeek this week announced its Elite 100, an annual ranking of the most innovative users of technology. While many of the winners are businesses — FedEx, for example, won for using text messages to see if someone is home before it tries to deliver a package -- government was also well represented.

The publication says it puts the list together each year to inspire. Too many organizations think they’re technologically adept when in reality they shove IT into a corner.

The winners, however, embrace technology and find creative ways to use it to serve their customers better. InformationWeek encourages readers to steal the ideas, so we're highlighting some of the public sector winners that you may want to get inspiration from.

A library that actually uses data
By definition, libraries are full of information, but ironically, few make any use of it themselves. Brooklyn Public Library is breaking out of that mold by using a data visualization package to analyze whether or not it’s serving its patrons well. Each library branch is encouraged to use it.

What they found is that there are actually huge variations in the audiences at the different branches. For instance, world language books were incredibly popular at one branch, so it changed its displays to highlight them.

Smart lake makes water managers smarter
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York has created what it calls the world’s smartest lake. Lake George has been called one of the state’s most pristine lakes, yet it’s threatened by everything from road salt to stormwater runoff to invasive species. There are now a network of sensors on the lake itself as well as tributary monitors that stream real-time data to a visualization center.

The real power, however, comes in the analysis. It’s using Council Lead Partner IBM’s Watson, a cognitive system that provides insights by processing data more like a person than a machine.  (It’s a version of the computer that beat two human Jeopardy champions on the trivia game show.) Researchers will use those insights to learn the factors that affect water quality as well as how best to use tools to manage them -- insights that could result in better water quality worldwide, a critical benefit since water quality may be a bigger problem than most realize.

Using drones for dangerous inspections
Council Associate Partner Black & Veatch is using drones to make the job safer for inspectors who have to certify communications towers.  At least for some inspections, Black & Veatch demonstrated that drones can be used instead of sending inspectors to physically climb the tower.

In addition to improving safety -- every climb poses a risk -- drones may also help speed up the inspection process. Because they’re mobile, they can capture more detail in 3D in less time than ground-based scanners. Wireless data transfer beams the data to inspectors on the ground who can analyze it in real time, reducing costs and delays.

Electronic medical records for inmates
The Cuyahoga County, Ohio jail relied on paper medical records to treat its inmates up until last year. In an overhaul, it partnered with MetroHealth System to switch to electronic records. The transition took 10 months, but it’s already paying off with better care, stronger privacy and cost savings.

In less than a year, the effort has saved more than $400,000 by reducing unnecessary emergency room trips. Radiology results are now available in real-time. Medical providers also find it easier to follow-up. And the entire scheduling process has been streamlined.

More resources …
Drones could help check if buildings and bridges are safe
Hard to swallow: New report predicts murky future for global water quality
Smarter water: How IBM is changing the water app landscape