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Tech Through the Decades: Part 3

How Big Data Changes Our Ability to Solve Citizen Problems

1/9/2020 3:12:58 PM

Brenda Gabriel standing in front of the a row of computer servers.

Pictured Above: Brenda Gabriel standing in front of the a row of servers.

The impact that technology has on the everyday lives of Minnesotans is changing exponentially. As we head into 2020, we wanted to reflect on where we were 10 years ago, the challenges and opportunities addressed by technology today, and where we might be headed in 2030. Technology touches nearly every aspect of the services that Minnesota state government provides, and the evolution of those services is underpinned by advances in technology, better business processes propelled by new applications or data management, and a focus on access for all.

Over the next few weeks, we will be sharing the perspectives of six employees from Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) who work hard every day for the State to ensure that Minnesotans have access to a better government.

Brenda Gabriel is a division manager, working with MNIT partnering with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). She has seen Minnesota technology come a long way since she started as a computer operator (loading cards into a computer). She started with the state in 1991 with the MN Revisors of Statutes Office and then transferred to MDH in 1998. She recently was part of a team that migrated a large number of MDH applications to cloud-based servers.

Q&A with Brenda Gabriel

What trends were you starting to see a decade ago that are increasingly true now?

Brenda: There is a lot of information that can be used to inform business. To achieve this outcome many barriers need to be overcome. A few of those obstacles are data agreement, data cleaning, how to store the data for optimal output and the right analytical tool(s). It became increasingly transparent that we didn’t have the luxury of building big data warehouses. The process was slow and information quickly became outdated. If you spent two years building a data warehouse, by the time it was scrubbed to be usable information, it would be out of date. At the Department of Health, the data could be health care claims information that researchers would use to understand trends like health care costs or uninsured rates.

Now, we can store much of these big data sets on cloud-based servers, and even automate some of the manual data scrubbing with machine learning, meaning that researchers can spend more time analyzing the information. This can start to really impact people’s lives when the analytics finds trends like a certain medication is being over administered across the state or certain actions are happening in a care facility. The agency can create more targeted education materials that would address these issues. My prediction is that these changes will keep growing – that in 10 years, we can automate a minimum of 30 percent of labor-intensive work.

What has been accomplished with data that you never imagined possible?

Brenda: The explosion of data that makes you think about how you collect, secure, and transform information for new uses. Data governance is critical because we can have these discussions with our business partners and ensure that we are using proper data use agreements at all levels of government.

You need to work with your business partners on data governance. Now, it’s not the technology that is holding our work back – the tech can do almost whatever people want to do. We ask questions about what can be done with the data beyond its original collection case to solve real problems for people. In order to use information differently you need to work on creating a strong data governance with your business partners to ensure information uses are approved and secured.

What capabilities do you hope to be available by 2030?

Brenda: We can use our role as technologists to create accessible services for anyone. The technology is coming that will remove barriers for constituents – they shouldn’t have to go to a building to receive a license or mail in a form to request a birth or death certificate.

At MDH, our next frontier is also dealing with different epidemics or health conditions. We want to be able to set up different systems to collect information that is emerging at the time of a public health emergency, and then exchange that information with external partners in a more consistent format. We have already begun our work on preparing for public health emergencies with the Medical PreCheck and POD Locator applications that allows for rapid distribution of life saving medication during an emergency.

I haven’t seen anything slow down in technology, only speed up. There’s a lot of good that can come from new innovations, but we need to keep our humanity in mind. At MDH, my goal is to be proactive and intentional with our work.

Digital Government

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