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New Tech Center Touted As Money-Saving Move

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September 10, 2014 — Network Indiana Statehouse reporter Eric Berman says Indiana state government is showing off a new high-tech command center officials predict will harness the power of Big Data to shape policy:

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TheStatehouseFile.com

INDIANAPOLIS – Gov. Mike Pence unveiled a new technology center Tuesday that cost the state nearly $340,000 to create and will be used to monitor real-time data as part of an effort to identify and solve state problems.

But the cost of the Management & Performance Hub headquartered in the space is actually much higher.

Indiana paid $2.5 million in upfront costs to global software firm SAP for data tracking software and will spend another $550,000 annually for its maintenance.

Plus, the Pence administration is spending $1.3 million to have an outside firm develop and analyze some of the key information – that related to infant and child deaths – because state government doesn’t have the expertise or staff to do so.

“Welcome to the future of state government,” Pence said Tuesday, looking around the modern, 1,845-square-foot center that is tucked away in the basement of the Statehouse.

The space is designed as an “open concept” office for 16 analysts, who have access to high-tech touch screens and data visualization software as well as low-tech white boards and markers.

The Management & Performance Hub – or MPH as the Pence administration is calling it – will put “Indiana in the very forefront of utilizing information technology to promote what we believe will be the most transparent, the most efficient and the most effective state government in America,” the governor said.

Pence demonstrated some of the center’s capabilities Tuesday, using a touch screen to display up-to-date maps of drug lab information – until the monitors shut off behind him. And Chris Atkins, director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget, showed off a map that uses different sized dots to identify the locations of traffic injuries and deaths.

The idea is to push real-time data into maps, charts and other complex visualizations so that problems are easier to spot more quickly. What used to take weeks or months, one state analyst said, might now take just hours.

And the state is making some of that data available on a Management & Performance Hub website at www.in.gov/mph/. Atkins said more data will move onto the site over time.

The state paid for the renovation of the space and the new technology using a combination of grant money from the Lilly Endowment and un-designated money in the Indiana Office of Technology budget.

Atkins said the state will achieve savings by moving six budget analysts from leased space in downtown Indianapolis into the new center. And Pence said the MPH should pay for itself by helping analysts identify savings opportunities in state government.

The new system will “let my analysts be analysts and not have them gathering data,” Atkins said.

Still, the state doesn’t currently have the staff to handle the high-level math some of the data crunching requires, said Paul Baltzell, the state’s chief information officer.

That’s why it’s contracting with vendors to handle the data analysis for two of Pence’s top issues: Tackling the state’s recidivism problems and reducing its infant mortality rate, which is one of the highest in the nation.

The state has contracted with KSM Consulting to study the latter. The outside firm is integrating 17 data sets from multiple agencies – with more than 5 billion rows of data – and creating customized algorithms to help the state determine why the infant and child mortality rates are so high. The state will pay KSM $1.3 million for those projects.

The Pence administration hasn’t yet hired a firm to look at the recidivism issue, which measures the number of people released from jails or prison who re-offend. But Baltzell said that will likely be necessary until the state can hire the data scientists needed for the advanced work. He said the state is talking with Purdue and Indiana universities on that issue.

“Long term, we want to try to encourage growth of the data science because it’s actually a very new and unique field,” he said. “It’s high level mathematicians.”

But those experts aren’t needed in every situation. The state’s existing budget analysts can use the SAP software to look at other data sets, including information about traffic, highways, drug busts and fleet management.

“That was all done in house by our own staff,” Baltzell said.

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