Creating “Addictive” New Applications with Legacy Data

April 21, 2015 9:12 am PST | Data as a Service, Public Finance

Most organizations consider Information Technology to be a data-driven department, but just collecting data doesn’t necessarily mean it’s also being put to good use. When Sanford Hess became the new IT Director for Urbana, Illinois, he was struck by the lack of tools to help employees and citizens access years of legacy information. In response, Hess created a plan using Open Expenditures to put data back in front of the people who need it.

The first challenge was deciding which legacy data to include in the initial system launch. “We already had extract capabilities for crime and financial data, so those were the obvious choices,” says Hess.

High-value and readily accessible data were obvious marks, but Hess saw an opportunity to involve all Departments in the Open Expenditures rollout, creating goodwill for the new system without much additional overhead. Each Department was asked what legacy data they would like to see included, and the IT team made sure that every Department was represented by at least one data set.

The new rollups Hess and his team created with Open Expenditures reduces the time it takes to process FOIA requests and makes the Urbana office as a whole more data-driven. Their efforts include creating a City-Wide expense object structure to standardize items that have inconsistent coding schemes in the Departments, and creating roll-ups to store CAFR values assigned by auditors so the structures can be recreated at any time.

The response to the changes so far have been positive, if small. Internal training has been very well received by staff, and one Council member who tried the new app declared that it was “addictive”. Hess hopes to see even more feedback in the future, particularly from the public, and says that “[w]e’re looking for citizens or the media to use it in articles, student projects, or citizen input.”

Learn more about how Sanford Hess and the Urbana, Illinois IT Department have used open data to drive efficiency, encourage employees to be more data-driven, and help staff understand the power of data – watch the full video below!


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