The cloud-enabled future of government data analytics


A new strategic partnership between SAS and Microsoft is helping the public sector harness the power of analytics in the cloud.

The advent of robust analytics and flexible cloud strategies is giving governments the ability and the agility to stand on equal ground with the more nimble private sector — particularly during the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Never before have we seen enterprises adapt and transform as rapidly as they have since the arrival of COVID-19. In the private sector, these decisions have come relatively easily, even if the execution is hard — meet the customer where they are, expand infrastructure to meet ballooning digital demand, and enable legions of employees to work remotely,” said Steve Bennett, Director of Global Government Practice at SAS.

“But to truly understand the scale of the moment, watch as governments — sometimes perceived as slower to adopt digital transformation — become agile champions of the cloud.”

To help governments achieve this, SAS has formed a strategic partnership with Microsoft to combine and harness the power of the former’s data analytics capabilities and the latter’s flexible Azure cloud environment.

Of course, analytics and cloud are not new concepts, but what’s different is the urgent move away from siloed and legacy infrastructures that are simply not capable of reacting fast enough in the current environment, says Bennett.

“When I worked at the US Department of Homeland Security in bio-surveillance, we were using analytics to understand new health threats, and we had two challenges that were a constant headache,” said Bennett.

“One was how we store data and remain compliant. The other was managing a large collection of tools — one to enable visualisation and dashboards, another for optimisation, and yet another for machine learning and predictive analytics.

“Even then, it was clear that we needed an end-to-end analytics solution that brought these tools together, and a secure and scalable platform to host them on. That is why I’m so excited about the new SAS and Microsoft partnership,” he said.

Daniel Sumner, Worldwide Director of Smart Infrastructure at Microsoft, agrees.

Sumner has spent the past 15 years helping cities around the world build innovative solutions using cloud-native analytics. He says he can see clearly how the future will be defined by data analytics, particularly with the Internet of Things taking off and the data flood beginning.

“For someone to make sense of all that data and see patterns in it is a monumental challenge — let alone making predictions from it,” said Sumner.

“There’s so much potential with SAS who has that inherent knowledge of understanding and interpreting data analytics, with the ability to execute on that data.”

And of course, when talking about government-held data, compliance and security are at the top of the list of requirements, making Microsoft’s certified Azure solutions all the more important. Azure provides control of the data, and SAS Viya — a data analytics platform designed for Azure — enables analytics across the entire spectrum.

Public sector analytics in the IoT age

“You may not think of a government or city council as having a large IoT estate,” Sumner said, “but think of light poles, luminaires, air quality sensors, water meters and water quality management systems. All of these are connected and generating a huge amount of data.”

Keeping on top of these assets and sensors is vitally important for city, state and federal governments, especially those committed to dealing with climate change or other serious challenges such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

Consider The Netherlands. One third of the country is below sea level, so it’s vital that authorities are able to keep an eye on flooding. That’s where sensor analytics comes in.

“SAS helped analyse streaming data in real time from 15,000 sensors to identify changes in infrastructure and water flow, so the government could act quickly and with precision, to mitigate potential flooding,” said Bennett.

“With SAS Viya on Azure, we can be more efficient in identifying patterns and, even better, we can make predictions about them.”

Pandemics, the present one or any other, seem tailor made for analytics solutions. “We’re using analytics to find anomalies in public health, figure out how to optimise hospital bed usage, and manage a supply chain for personal protective equipment in the wake of COVID-19,” said Bennett.

And then there are other fields such as fraud prevention, crime investigation and so on, which also are ideally suited to analytics solutions.

“The possibilities of powerful analytics in government are truly exciting,” he added. “Our focus now is helping those public institutions embrace the cloud quickly to drive tangible results.”

Deep integration

The need to respond quickly to COVID-19 has helped everyone in the sector to realise that digital transformation can happen anywhere, on any timeline, says Bennett.

“I’ve had one client who had a seven-year plan for digital transformation, but they had to run that plan in four days to get new benefits out for citizens,” he said.

“Likewise, when the UK government needed to distribute stimulus cheques, SAS helped Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) run their entire national tax system in reverse.”

And it doesn’t have to be at nation-state scale. Local government is equally well suited to capitalising on the benefits of cloud-enabled analytics.

“Cities don’t have the expertise internally to deploy these tools, so we’re not asking customers to invest in huge data centres and spend their precious budget on data capture and data storage,” said Microsoft’s Sumner. “We’ve reached a point where Microsoft and SAS can offer this as a service.”

That service offering is built on deep integration of the SAS Viya platform with Azure services such as including Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS), Microsoft Active Directory, Azure Synapse, enabling the delivery of a fully integrated, end-to-end, cloud-native analytics solution.

“Now, cities can transform their analytics while consuming on a per-unit, per-sensor, or even per-square mile basis,” said Bennett. “This affords a government [the ease] to go to one place to manage all of the data headaches, as well as all of the insights they gain.”

Keeping the end in mind

It’s important to remember just who is the ultimate beneficiary of all this technology — the citizen. Cloud-enabled analytics needs to be employed in such a way that dealing with government agencies becomes easier and more streamlined. As Sumner points out, “citizens are expecting a level of performance that they experience in the consumer world”.

That performance can now be achieved faster and at lower cost thanks to partnerships such as that formed between SAS and Microsoft.

“Governments have an enormous responsibility to keep citizens safer, to reduce unnecessary spending, and frankly, to make daily life more enjoyable,” said Bennett.

“We, at SAS, take that responsibility seriously, and are hard at work on the next generation of analytics technology that will help the public sector reap the benefits of the cloud, and improve the citizen experience.”

To learn more, download the free e-book: Reimagine Analytics in the Cloud With SAS® and Microsoft Azure from https://www.sas.com/en_us/offers/20q2/reimagine-anayltics-cloud-ebook.html.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/Sergey

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