The many departments within any given municipal government share the common goal of making their city a better place to live. Unfortunately, it is all too common for each department to be so busy pursing that goal internally that they ignore a major resource available to them: their fellow agencies.
The phenomenon of city departments failing to collaborate with one another is widespread and crippling. By working in a silo, each department misses out on data and strategy that other sectors of the city government have to offer.
Understanding the untapped potential that interdepartmental cooperation could offer, the City of Charlotte’s Business Intelligence Community (BIC) established a bi-annual BIC Olympiad. With a focus on business intelligence and data sharing, the competition challenges teams of city workers to utilize technology to complete a task as efficiently as possible. For example, the 2010 Olympiad called for teams to first create dashboards using their own business data and then incorporate data from a hypothetical disaster scenario. The dashboards were evaluated and judged by industry experts and a winning team was chosen based on best practices in information visualization.
Each team is a conglomeration of staff members from departments as diverse as IT, Neighborhood and Business Services, Police, and the Budget Office. By uniting members of departments that rarely interact, the competition offers an opportunity for city officials to bring their unique perspective to the table. The intersection of specialties and strengths allows for optimal results that wouldn’t have been achieved had each department been working independently.
The fruits of this cooperation were seen in the results of the 2013 Olympiad. Tasked with developing a methodology and framework for visualizing Charlotte’s future, each team created a unique dashboard solution that has real-world value. By observing current trends, challenges neighborhoods face, and opportunities where the city can effect growth, the winning team determined which city investments could result in the greatest positive change. The second-place team presented a dashboard that provided insight into how well the city is doing at providing services by quantifying quality of life in each neighborhood. Finally, the third team focused on the change in residential value by mapping public and private investments as well as city projects. Although a winner was chosen, each of the three dashboards offers Charlotte valuable insight that would not otherwise have been available.
Operating on zero budget and run by volunteers, the BIC Olympiad has changed the way the City of Charlotte does business. Managers have seen an overall increase in business intelligence competency and judges have noted a clear rise in the quality of entries to each successive competition. Most importantly, however, the Olympiad actively demonstrates the value of interdepartmental collaboration to its participants. By creating a safe space for city workers to communicate and work with one another, the BIC Olympiad has paved the way for a more efficient and prudently run city government.