By: Jeff Brown, VP of Consulting Services, Navigator Management Partners
Navigator Management Partners recently worked with the leaders at the State of Ohio to bring transparency and information access to a whole new level through the State of Ohio’s Interactive Budget. This project was described in a recent article in Government Technology magazine
and is viewed as a leader in providing transparency and access to data. The Interactive Budget system is the culmination of executive vision from the state, leveraging enterprise IT services and assets, project teamwork, and a successful technical implementation and deployment. We encourage you to visit the resulting website at interactivebudget.ohio.gov
Leveraging Existing Assets
As the article notes, the leaders of the State of Ohio had a vision to provide an end-to-end, comprehensive view of the state’s finances including where the money comes from, how it’s appropriated, and where monies get spent. This view would be available to internal and external users including the general public. Over the past several years, the state has invested in a Business Intelligence (BI) program and Navigator has played a significant role helping implement this capability, and new projects initiated by the state have consistently included a set of business intelligence requirements. To make this capability successful, the state implemented governance processes to ensure that solutions were built that answered the specific questions of today but also could provide answers to the enterprise-wide questions of tomorrow. In addition to ensuring support for future requirements, this approach enables the state to address future needs more quickly and efficiently by leveraging well-defined data assets and processes put in place with this governance model.
This provided an excellent starting point for this project. For years, agencies had developed and used BI data to plan, manage and optimize their organizations. Enterprise-wide revenue, budget, and expense data was readily available in user-friendly analytical models, and with reporting tools such as Tableau and Cognos for end users. Further, state fiscal personnel as well as the BI team, had an excellent understanding of the data in their enterprise systems, which was tremendously valuable for this project to be able to provide public facing context for the data.
Providing Context to Data
A key requirement for this project was going beyond providing the raw financial data to the public, by providing appropriate context and additional value to the data. With clean, organized data and tools available, providing context around this data ultimately became the largest portion of the project. Oftentimes, open data projects post data in formats such as Excel or CSV files and may even provide some level of data visualization. However, the desire of state leaders was to present understandable information across a broad performing government with a $70 billion annual budget without forgoing these typical components of transparency solutions.
As the article mentions, there were a number of important concepts that were implemented during the project:
- Hierarchies, some pre-existing and others extended for this project, were leveraged to take the user from higher to more granular levels of data before reaching the lowest level, which is the actual financials transactions.
- "Breadcrumb" functionality was built so the user could always see how the data they were viewing fit into the larger picture.
- Consistent visualization experiences were used in all domains (revenue, budget, expenses) so that the user had a consistent experience throughout the site.
- Multiple, but consistent, visualization techniques were used to handle the wide spread of data attributes - – ranging from a few to thousands - across all hierarchies of the organization.
- A variety of visualization techniques were provided for each data profile, based on best practices, and to give the user the ability to choose a preferred viewing approach. This included Tableau tree maps, bubble charts, and visual lists.
Finally, data security was a major focus in the project. Certain data has legal or privacy protection and couldn’t be displayed in its raw form on the site. However, it was important not to lose exclude this data from the reporting because, as the article mentions, 80% of the state’s expenses are paid out in the form of subsidies. These can go to public entities (schools, local governments, higher education institutions, etc.), private entities (healthcare providers, grant recipients, etc.), and private citizens (public assistance recipients, tax returns, etc.) among others. So, although the data was in excellent condition, rules needed to be defined to protect the sensitive elements of this data while still including it in the information made available to the public.
The result was a site with rich information and technical capabilities. We encourage you to explore the site
yourself to interact with the following capabilities:
- Budget – Explores budget data (and compared to actuals) from functional category to agency to budget line item and ultimately to the actions/transactions which have appropriated money in the budget.
- Expenses – Explores state spending down three different paths: what the state spends money on (Expense Type), who spends it (Agency), and what it supports (functional category).
- Revenue – Explores the sources of state revenues moving from highest to lowest level sources.
- Flow of Funds – An approximation of how money flows through the state starting with revenue sources for a fund and ending with the agencies and types of expenditures happening out of the fund.
- Search – All of the attributes which are present on the site are available in a “Google-like” search. For example, you can search for agencies, payees, funds, accounts, appropriation line items, etc. and will be taken to the most appropriate visualization given the type of data for which you searched.
- Agency Dashboard – A snapshot of each agency providing what the agency does, what their budget is and compares it to their actuals, how they are funded, and what they spend their money on.
- Highest Paid Companies – A list of the payees receiving the most funding, categorized by commercial suppliers, recipients of public funds, and other payees (interagency transfers, payroll, etc.). The dashboard is searchable, filterable, and drills down to paying agency, nature of the paying relationship, and for what object/purpose the payment occurred. The dashboard terminates with a detailed listing of all transactions for the selected payee.
- Popular Searches – Numerous pre-filtered dashboards are available to explore specific categories of state spend.
Telling a Visual Story using Data
From a technology perspective, the Interactive Budget was accomplished by leveraging the State of Ohio’s data warehouse, enterprise Tableau licensing, and embedding Tableau visualizations into the Office of Budget and Management (OBM) website. The State of Ohio runs Enterprise BI, Data Sharing, and Analytics as a service and Navigator is proud to have partnered with them to provide these services. This Enterprise Service model allows all state agencies to leverage enterprise licensing, support, and services reducing costs and improving consistency of delivery. As noted in the article, many agencies are on-boarded to the Tableau portion of this service. This data visualization service is being used for data discovery, internal dashboards and reporting to help run the organization, and increasingly web embedded visualizations, such as the Interactive Budget, being a desired use case to share their agency story with their public constituents. Though this use case is particularly relevant for public sector organizations, any organization can benefit by enriching the experience with their customers through interactive, visualized data to convey product information, philanthropic endeavors, social and marketing messaging, among many other possibilities.