Connecting state and local government leaders
Tacoma, Washington, is using the cloud to bridge information silos across its 25 distinct departments and improve reporting.
State and local governments want to take advantage of the information agencies collect, but data silos, security and compliance requirements, unstructured data, and hybrid and legacy infrastructure put collaboration and data analysis beyond the reach of many.
Tacoma, Washington, for example, uses SAP for its enterprise resource planning system, but a challenge has been creating business workflow processes to enable reporting, said Enzhou Wang, the city’s chief data officer. SAP has its own business intelligence data warehouse, but only a limited group of users were able to create reports or dashboards.
It recently moved to Snowflake’s Data Cloud and has been able to bridge information silos across its 25 distinct departments and improve reporting. Essentially, the city can now feed data from multiple repositories into Snowflake as its enterprise data lake, and city employees can create their own dashboards and reports.
“The main goal is really building views to extract the data from SAP, building a data pipeline, moving the data to Snowflake, then using Tableau as a visualization and analytics tool to get insights to build dashboard reports on top of that,” Wang said. “Dashboards are published through our Tableau portal, internally, and everyone can see it.”
The company recently announced its government and education data cloud that brings together the company’s data platform and other vendors’ services with industry-specific datasets, cleaning and housing “data hygienically into a place that it can be useful—whether it’s structured, unstructured or semi-structured,” said Jeff Frazier, Snowflake’s global head of public sector.
Agencies want to be able to put their siloed data in a single, secure platform where “they can use tools to … have much more insightful understanding about ticket permitting, criminal justice, foster care,” Frazier said. “You start understanding your data, you start being able to make really informed decisions, and you get into really dynamic decisions around budgeting, around policymaking, etc.”
Disaster response is another use case, he added. After Hurricane Ian hit Florida last year, local governments there used Snowflake to expedite the credentialing of volunteers who rushed to the state to help with rescue and cleanup efforts. By putting data from different information silos into one place, officials were able to improve credential management, Frazier said.
To make solutions like the new Snowflake data cloud work, agencies need to have a mindset for change and the ability to move into cloud infrastructure, he said, adding that the Government and Education Data Cloud sits on top of Amazon, Microsoft and Google clouds, so if an agency already has any of those in place, it can start using Snowflake right away.
Agencies may opt to move all data at once to the new cloud or do it piecemeal. “It’s really the vision of the person or the entity,” Frazier said, and much of that decision rides on culture. “The tech is the easy part. It’s always the institutionalisms. People don’t fear change. They fear loss.”
The new solution is certified as FedRAMP Moderate and StateRAMP High and can support regulated workloads subject to Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS), Internal Revenue Service 1075, Family Education and Privacy Act, and Federal Acquisition Regulation and Defense FAR Supplement data protection requirements.
In Tacoma, the city deployed the government cloud this spring within its police department because of its native compliance with CJIS, Wang said.
The city has other projects in the works, including an audit of current security policies, and it is also working on how best to architect the data, database schemas and roles and learning how to use Snowflake beyond reporting data analytics.
For example, Tacoma is exploring whether Snowflake can be used as a data hub, Wang said. “Traditionally, a lot of the integration is point-to-point and ‘integrate this application to the other,’ and soon you get a web of connections,” he said. “I think there’s a possibility to have more of a hub-and-spoke type of data integration.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.