Nebraska Centralizes State Agency Data With Digital Hub

An Unparalleled Solution To Siloed Data



Steven Lerner
04/18/2019

As state governments undergo digital transformation, there is a growing trend towards data democratization and expanding access of public data to all citizens. Nebraska has taken a unique approach to data management that could change the way that states conduct this process.

Unifying Data Portals

Under the direction of the state’s Chief Information Officer Ed Toner, Nebraska released a public digital portal built with Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology. Although it is common for nearly all state governments to maintain data portals, Nebraska designed a portal that includes data from every statewide agency in a single location.

“We're one of the few, from what I understand, that actually has all the data from every agency in one place, which makes it very valuable for us as a state because we're managing all that data,” said Toner. “Everyone has a data portal. We're just doing our data portal through GIS, which is a unique spin on this.”

The portal, which launched in 2018, maps out geographic data from 18 state agencies, including the Building Division, Game and Parks, the Department of Transportation, and the Department of Health and Human Services. The entire data project is part of the state government’s digital transformation.

“What we're trying to do is concentrate our data portals on one site,” said Toner. “We're trying to give the data a geographic preview. A person can actually visually see the data before they download the data.”

How The Data Portal Works

Nebraska’s GIS portal, which can be accessed on desktop and mobile devices, is very user-friendly. The layers on the map can be altered so that the user can customize the type of data that they want to see. On the portal’s dashboard, the user can also download the data sources in types of documents.

The data is specific to each agency. For example:

  • For Nebraska’s Department of Transportation, there’s a map that displays all of the different fuel stations in the state.
  • For Nebraska State Portal, the map can display crime statistics, such as the concentration of different types of robberies.
  • For Nebraska’s Department of Health and Human Services, there’s a map that plots of certified childcare locations.

gis_nebraska

One interesting map shows teenage motor vehicle accidents, which is the leading cause of teenage death in the United States. Users can map out specific data, such as the number of accidents involving teenage drinking, if the teenager was wearing a seatbelt, and even what high school the teenager attended. Personal data, such as names, are excluded from the portal in order to protect privacy.

“There's always been a need for GIS for plotting things out on a map and displaying that data,” said Toner.

The Technology Behind The Data Portal

The Office of the CIO of Nebraska is tasked with managing the data and ensuring that all of it is current. This includes managing the online portal and making sure that the hardware is up-to-date. The geodatabase applications are from Esri, a supplier of GIS software.

The data sits on two servers: one in Lincoln, and one in Omaha. The data is also used in conjunction with 911, so that if someone calls 911, it connects the user with the data so that first responders can get quicker directions to the location.

Each agency has someone who manages its own data by checking out a branch of code, making changes, and then checking the data back in. A central data team monitors changes and ensures that the data is consistent.

Initial Response

Since the launch of the data portal, the reception has been positive, according to Toner. In addition to workers from state agencies finding value in it, universities and private researchers are also accessing it.

“Now that we're starting to show people what GIS is, there’s more and more demand for us to map data,” said Toner. “State agencies always had the data, but they just never thought about actually geographically mapping it. This is kind of a new thing for them, and we're getting more demand than our team can really do at this time.”

All industries can benefit from having a centralized hub of data, instead of having to rely on siloed data. This case also shows that data visualization tools, including mapping out data, can be constructive.

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