Topeka Public Works Increases Transparency with Data Analysis Tool
The Public Works Department (PWD) for the City of Topeka, Kansas, is responsible for the design, construction, renovation, and operation of public projects. These projects range from bridges, traffic signs and signals, and city-owned trees to parking meters, garages, and street and sidewalk maintenance. This department strives to deliver programs and projects that enhance public health and the quality of life for all Topeka residents.
Public funds support current and future public works projects and programs. The PWD's technical support group (TSG) collects and shares accurate data to enable informed decisions on how funds are spent and to increase organizational transparency. As the work of the PWD serves city residents, this group implemented data analysis software to help the department better share budget and spending information with the public.
The TSG needed a new solution to help display PWD budget information in a clear, presentable way to the public. The City of Topeka strives to increase transparency by giving the public access to financial information. This helps residents understand how and where public funds are allocated. As such, the TSG needed a new solution to illustrate and share this complex data.
Communicating with a visual story
Brandon Bayless, Technical Support Group (TSG) Manager, City of Topeka, Public Works Department
The TSG needed a new solution to help display PWD budget information in a clear, presentable way to the public.
ArcGIS Insights allows the group to bring in information about real-world situations and provide a more holistic picture.
ArcGIS Insights has increased organizational transparency by giving the public a much easier way to access city data.
Also, the TSG wanted a new tool to improve internal collaboration and communication. The PWD consists of many divisions, including geographic information system (GIS) management, forestry, streets, and engineering. The previous process involved individuals downloading spreadsheets and getting standard text reports, with no information being shared across the organization.
Brandon Bayless, TSG manager, City of Topeka, explains that finance information was not being shared among various divisions and departments, which meant there were likely no larger discussions on the data. This made it difficult to collaborate and get the details needed to make data-informed decisions for the organization.
"For the city, there's been a big push to have reliable, timely, and accurate information [to help] make better decisions based on supporting data," says Bayless. "A lot of the information was not necessarily being shared or analyzed. We know the data is there, but can we infer anything based on the data that's being provided?"
The TSG selected ArcGIS Insights to help staff improve information sharing. ArcGIS Insights is analysis software that enables users to explore data and perform advanced analytics to gain new insights.
ArcGIS Insights was a great solution for the TSG, Bayless says, because "it seemed to have all the tools we needed to display our data in a web-based platform."
"When I was going through and building the different pieces for open data, I knew I wanted to utilize ArcGIS Insights. And I thought the budgets were a good example of being able to use it," says Darren Haag, TSG solutions architect, City of Topeka. "Even though we don't necessarily need to map that data, I felt like ArcGIS Insights is a powerful business intelligence-type application that we could use for financial data."
The use of ArcGIS Insights to visually display data has given the organization a platform for making better decisions. The group can bring in information about real-world situations and give staff a more holistic picture.
"Everything that's done around the city, whether it be fixing potholes or fixing water main breaks, has a location. And being able to analyze that and show people on a map or provide information [visually] is extremely beneficial," says Bayless.
The implementation of ArcGIS Insights has increased organizational transparency by giving the public a much easier way to access city data. The TSG can now provide more than just numbers on a spreadsheet; staff can tell a story visually, making it easier for the public to understand. Residents are empowered to find answers to their questions, ultimately freeing up city staff to focus on the services they're trying to provide.
Haag says ArcGIS Insights is easier to use than other tools the department has tried and is better organized, making information easier to digest. He adds that there will likely be more questions about the data after residents review it, but the questions are welcome because they help staff know what is important to citizens.
When residents view data, says Haag, "They possibly see trends or look at things and ask questions like, 'Why is this showing this?' or, 'Why aren't you doing something here?' And it opens up that line of communication, which can help make the organization work better."
Within the PWD, ArcGIS Insights has improved data collection and analysis. Bayless notes that staff previously spent the majority of their day just trying to access and extract data with their financial software. Now, any requested data is collected easily and available to download via a link. In the past, staff would have to spend between an hour and an hour and a half pulling data, creating a ZIP file, and posting it on an FTP site.
"ArcGIS Insights reduces the time needed to pull data. Now, it's a very simple email response," explains Bayless. "That's one of those efficiencies that makes things work smoother because we're not having to put pressure on somebody to do all this manual work."
He adds, "We are in the beginning process of setting up our internal system, but in the short time we have been using ArcGIS Insights, it has become apparent how much more efficient our time will be used in exploring and analyzing our data."
One example of ArcGIS Insights streamlining operations is the use of it to house the budgets and financial data for three PWD divisions, which has saved time and improved accuracy. The ease of data input and analysis has enabled division managers to better track their actual spending, analyze trends, and find areas where additional funding is needed or where budgets can be reduced. This work was previously done by going through the divisions' financial system and tracking the numbers in spreadsheets.
"The data and analytics that we provide with ArcGIS Insights or that we empower other departments to use helps them make better decisions, which benefits the community. We're able to more effectively and more efficiently provide services to residents," says Bayless.
Once division managers can use ArcGIS Insights tools built for them, it will help them identify inefficiencies and areas to focus on that have previously gone unnoticed. Transitioning from our past process of manually reviewing budgets and spending to using ArcGIS Insights is giving us more accurate and efficient results.