The City of Topeka, Kansas, like many local governments, is in the midst of a data renaissance. For many years, we were collecting and creating data—and that’s where the story ended. Systems became data dumping grounds, and legacy processes contributed to questionable data. But over time, our strategic objectives broadened, and we wanted to leverage technology to increase transparency, efficiency, and collaboration. We adopted strategic initiatives, including performance management, asset management, project management, and open data, which brought value and purpose to the data—turning it into information. Today, data-driven decision-making is evolving into informed, innovative, and insightful decision-making.
For those of us who are data custodians, stewards, and practitioners this transformation is more than welcome. This is why we do what we do! Then, the realization that has been building in our collective guts over the years, keeping us awake at night, bubbles to the surface. How can we ensure and validate the quality of our data, have confidence in our data, prove data value, and create data resilience? At what level of service do we expect our data to perform? That’s where portfolio management comes in.
In many organizations, portfolio management is often overlooked. It is a data assessment and management strategy that encompasses life cycles, inventory, health checks, gap analysis, workflow calibration, and strategic alignment. On the surface, it sounds complex and cumbersome, but the end product is incredibly valuable to creating and contributing to the narrative about your information ecosystem.
Ask the Following Questions:
- What data do we have, and what are we missing?
- How accurate is the data? If the data is performing at an appropriate level, how do we keep it there? If not, how do we get it there?
- What is the business need? Who uses this data and is there value to creating and maintaining it? What is the organization’s level of investment?
- Is the data accessible and usable within and outside of the organization?
- Is the process for gathering data aligned with operational workflows? Or, are we gathering data just to gather data? Is there a sustainable maintenance schedule?
- Is there a cooperative governance structure to guide these efforts?
Conduct a Data Inventory
Keep in mind this is not a linear or quick process. More importantly, understand that managing a data portfolio–muchlike a stock portfolio–is dynamic and continuous. You will never be finished. This is asset management for your data.
We started this process in 2016 with the overall objective to have accurate, reliable, and timely information that supports both operations and strategic initiatives. The first phase of portfolio management began with data inventory, data scrubbing, and accuracy assessments. The data inventory process was an enormous undertaking, but you cannot forge a path forward until you know your current position.
Our data was functioning at infancy level. We discovered there were no authoritative data sources. In fact, many of our core datasets, including addresses, parcels, streets, and city boundaries, had not just dozens but hundreds of duplicate and outdated datasets actively in use.
Fill in the Gaps
Our portfolio had over 500 data sources, both geospatial and flat datasets, but we were still missing fundamental information vital to creating an appropriate level of confidence. The inventory provided us an authoritative data source with a data catalog and a plan fill the gaps for both geography and attributes. Our approach for filling the data gaps leverages in-house resources and a capital improvement project. The project involves extracting assets from street level imagery as well as boots-on-the-ground acquisition. Assets to be inventoried include trees, curbs, gutters, inlets, manholes, signs, hydrants, ditches, and much more.
In parallel with the inventory, we performed a workflow calibration with our Cityworks users. With KPIs in hand, we met with each operating division to audit and align their service requests, work orders, inspections, and workflows in Cityworks with strategic initiatives. From a systems management perspective, we also combined and retooled Cityworks so that all levels of users, from field operators to department directors, could get the information they needed when they needed it without any process being overly cumbersome.
Ongoing Data Assessment
The next phases of this project will include creating vehicles for data access, assessing the health of the data, developing data maintenance plans, and implementing a portfolio management dashboard. Finally, the last phases will assess the value of the data, both financially and programmatically.
We made significant process in the first eighteen months of implementing portfolio management. We created a dialogue within and among departments that highlights the need for efficient and resilient data management practices. We engaged and educated stakeholders to improve operations. Perhaps most valuable of all, we became an integral strategic partner in supporting the collective success of the city.
By Amber Reynolds, deputy director of public works, and Brandon Bayless, technical support group division manager, City of Topeka, Kansas