The U.S. government is in the middle of a massive project to count every American as part of a once-a-decade effort to figure out how to distribute services and allot representatives in Congress.
This exercise can trace its lineage back to ancient Rome, when the emperors needed to figure out how much to tax various elements of the empire based on the number of people and the goods and services being produced.
Back then, the process obviously needed to be manual. But today we live in a digital age. In fact, the government already has the information it is trying to collect in the form of tax records and other government documents. So rather than spending millions of dollars collecting that information again, maybe that money would be better spent integrating all the systems that already have the information the government needs.
In fact, by the time the U.S. government collects, organizes and analyzes the census data, a huge portion of it will be out of date. Would it not be preferable to generate a census every six months to a year simply by aggregating all the data we already have?
Robert Dolan, worldwide industry executive for business analytics in the public sector at IBM, says governments around the world are making huge strides in information management. They are still limited by declining tax bases in terms of the number of IT projects they can fund, but Dolan says there are many examples where "Smarter Government" is starting to take hold. They include:
In the grand scheme of government spending, these savings are small potatoes. But they show what can be done. So maybe the time has come to try something really massive in scope like reinventing the census system in a way that could not only save billions of dollars, but also create a more efficient government that could respond to changing demographics more than once every 10 years.