Daniel Sumner, Worldwide Director of Smart Infrastructure at Microsoft

Through our new strategic partnership, SAS and Microsoft are helping the public sector realize the power of analytics in the cloud. I spoke with Daniel Sumner, Worldwide Director of Smart Infrastructure at Microsoft, to explore the possibilities of more robust analytics and cloud strategies in government — and the technology that can make them happen.

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. It’s simply a matter of good business.

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.

Daniel Sumner helped illustrate the unique advantages that SAS and Microsoft’s new strategic partnership can lend to governments of all geographies and sizes. From connecting and drawing insight out of city-wide IoT footprints to reversing entire tax systems in a matter of days, only the cloud can meet the new demands placed on the public sector. It’s simply a matter of good government.

Compounding the value of the cloud

Well before the global pandemic, governments have watched their digital footprint grow — even as they manage that footprint with siloed and legacy infrastructures. When I worked at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security in Biosurveillance, we were using analytics to understand new health threats, and we had two challenges that were a constant headache. One was how we store data and remain compliant. The other was managing a large collection of tools — one to enable visualization and dashboards, another for optimization, 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.

Nobody meets the compliance and security needs of the public sector like Microsoft. Azure provides unparalleled control of data, and SAS is augmenting those benefits with Viya, a data analytics platform designed for Azure that enables analytics across the entire spectrum.

Daniel Sumner, whose 15 years of experience at Microsoft includes building innovative solutions for cities around the world, spoke to the value of cloud-native analytics solutions. Citing the tremendous volumes of data created by IoT technology (Cisco predicts devices connected to IP networks will amount to more than three times the global population by 2023) Daniel pointed out that “for someone to make sense of all that data and see patterns in it is a monumental challenge — let alone making predictions from it. 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.”

Combining SAS’s analytical expertise and tools with Azure’s global, secure, and compliant cloud can help government agencies innovate and achieve faster time to value. But what does that mean on the ground?

The future of public sector analytics

SAS strives to empower customers to innovate, advance human achievement, and positively impact society. There’s no better test case for these ambitions than in government. Take the Netherlands’ water management system. One-third of the country is below sea level, making transparency in their water management paramount for both efficiency and public safety. SAS helped analyze 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.

At a more local level, sensors in streets can work in tandem with weather forecasts to predict whether it’s worth the cost to grit roads for icy conditions that may never materialize. These predictive analytics applications have immense effects on city budgets, and more importantly, human lives — but they wouldn’t be possible without the scale of the cloud.

“You may not think of a government or city council as having a large IoT estate,” Daniel 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.”

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

As governments are compelled by climate change to make commitments around sustainability, carbon management, transportation, or emergency response, the importance of a connected data system that can drive predictive insights becomes clear. Natural disasters are increasing at unprecedented rates, and it can cost local government tens or even hundreds of millions to recover.

But the motivations for adopting analytics in the cloud doesn’t stop there. Analytics help governments identify fraud, and can help police become more efficient in investigations. And in the healthcare space, we’re using analytics to find anomalies in public health, figure out how to optimize hospital bed usage, and manage a supply chain for personal protective equipment in the wake of COVID-19.

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

Time to value

COVID-19 has helped us realize that digital transformation can happen anywhere, on any timeline. I’ve had one client who had a 7-year plan for digital transformation, but they had to run that plan in 4 days to get new benefits out for citizens.

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

Still, it’s not just nations and major cities that need to advance their analytics strategies. We want to address every kind of city, every kind of government. That starts by answering the question: how can growing cities deploy the right tools on the right timeline, on budget?

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

This new offering is built on deep integrations of the SAS Viya platform with Azure services, including Azure Kubernetes Services (AKS), Microsoft Active Directory, Azure Synapse, and more. This allows for 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. This affords a government to go to one place to manage all of the data headaches, as well as all of the insights they gain.

The citizen experience

Daniel predicts the ‘customer satisfaction’ mentality motivating businesses will start to drive government decisions around digital technology and data. That means making actions like applying for a driver’s license or city permits easy to do online.

These steps can reduce municipal costs while improving the citizen experience. After all, as Daniel said, “citizens are expecting a level of performance that they experience in the consumer world.”

Finally, you can accomplish that mission faster and at a lower cost thanks to SAS’ strategic partnership with Microsoft.

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

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About Author

Steve Bennett

Director of the Global Government Practice

Steve Bennett, Ph.D. is the Director of the Global Government Practice at SAS. With twelve years of experience in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, he has a passion for improving the speed and quality of public sector decision making through analytics. While he enjoys discussing machine learning, data visualization, and decision theory, he also loves talking faith, family, and woodworking!

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