Tracking the Stimulus: BI Answers Call for Government Transparency - InformationWeek

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Tracking the Stimulus: BI Answers Call for Government Transparency

Dashboards and scorecards are ready to monitor Recovery Act spending and results. Arkansas Department of Education takes first steps.

Whether you're relieved or alarmed by the magnitude of the $787 billion economic stimulus package authorized by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, it may comfort you to know that the Act stipulated strict accountability requirements, including the creation of a Recovery Accountability and Transparency Board and a Web site for reporting on spending and results.

The good news for business intelligence (BI) professionals is that transparent reporting will require a lot of dashboards, reports and key performance metrics. And that will mean new jobs -- or at least continued employment -- for government IT workers and new contracts for BI software and systems integration firms.

Stimulus tracking is already underway in Arkansas, where the state's Department of Education has added Web-based planning and reporting capabilities to a larger IBM Cognos enterprise planning and analysis project that was underway.

"We were in the process of expanding access to our data warehouse when IBM approached us to ask us if we'd be interested in working with them to meet federal reporting requirements related to stimulus money," explains Bill Goff, assistant commissioner of fiscal and administrative services at the Arkansas Department of Education (DOE). "Development of an input tool began in April, and the first step will be for each district and individual school to submit plans for spending [Recovery Act] allocations."

The additional input and tracking technology added about $200,000 to the $1.2 million project already underway, according to Goff. Two to four power users in each of Arkansas' 262 school districts (or a total of 600 to 800 users) will have access to the spreadsheet-like input and analysis tool, which is based on IBM Cognos TM1 software. Once the districts sign off on their plans, the state DOE will review and approve them, and the funds could start flowing to some 1,100 eligible schools in the state as soon as June 30.

Many states will use stimulus funds to restore budget cuts (and hopefully save jobs). But Goff says Arkansas hasn't faced reductions in educational spending, "so most of those dollars will be used to go beyond what we're doing today." The majority of funds will be used for repair, renovation and modernization of school facilities, he says, which should lead to construction employment.

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