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Using Data and Semantics to Improve Public Sector Services

Continuous Improvement, Data Management, Data Science, Government, Healthcare, Information Technology, Innovation, Innovation in the Public Sector, IT Modernization, Public Sector, Sacramento, Technology

An Interview with Dr. Josh Morgan of SAS


We recently had the opportunity to hear Dr. Josh Morgan, National Director of Behavioral Health and Whole Person Care at software developer SAS, speak at the SAS Institute Inc.’s SAS California Users Forum.

Dr. Morgan spoke about how important semantics and data are to solving complex issues in the areas of health care, homelessness, corrections, the environment, and more.

We were particularly taken with Dr. Morgan’s insights on how we define things can determine how we review and analyze them. He emphasized that the way we speak about a problem influences how we look at it and address it. (Spoiler: Below, Dr. Morgan shares a great story about how changing semantics in a public outreach and engagement program led to improvements to the public agency’s services.)

After hearing Dr. Morgan speak, we wanted to learn more about the work he does and his passion for improving whole person care and for helping solve complex issues. Today we’re thrilled to share this interview with Dr. Josh Morgan!

KAI Partners, Inc.: What is your profession/day-to-day work?

Dr. Morgan: I’m a licensed psychologist currently working as the National Director of Behavioral Health and Whole Person Care at SAS. I provide consultation to agencies on how to identify a more complete, accurate picture of community need as well as the impact of services, ideally from a more holistic perspective.

KAIP: How did you get into this field?

Dr. Morgan: I was planning to become a film director originally, but wanted to more directly help people, so I pursued psychology (after exploring multiple other fields). My doctoral program emphasized strengths-based, person-centered work that also acknowledged the role of systems and structures in our lives (versus an individual in isolation). But when I started working full-time in the field, I got frustrated by all the things we weren’t allowed to do because it’s not a covered benefit or not in policy. Our health world is focused very much on reducing symptoms and just on the individual. I made the move into the analytics/evaluation side as a way to use data to advocate for better services, systems, structures, and policies.

KAIP: What is your favorite part about your work and why?

Dr. Morgan: There are two parts. The core meaning of my work is in helping advocate for more whole person care across the country. On a more practical level, I love getting to see the creativity of people around the country in doing so much with so little and finding answers to complex questions despite barriers. I really have fun being presented with policy and evaluation questions and figuring out ways to answer them and even enhance them with more complete, accurate information.

KAIP: Why do you do what you do/what inspires you?

Dr. Morgan: Making a difference in our policies, systems, and structures so more people get the care they need in a holistic way.

KAIP: How does data and semantics inform your work and how you approach problems?

Dr. Morgan: My dissertation was qualitative (on exemplar Muslim and Christian interfaith peacemakers), so I’ve long been a skeptic of quantitative data’s ability to represent human experiences and true outcomes. However, I’ve increasingly recognized we live in a quantitative world, and discrete numbers are really helpful for telling a story of broad impact. It’s easy to complain about the metrics we currently have, but I decided it was better to get a seat at the table and influence the metrics to push for more whole person, strengths-based indicators and data rather than just have it all imposed upon me.

This is core to a lot of my work, finding ways to be creative in meeting required, symptom-focused metrics while contributing more contextual information to tell a more complete, accurate story. I had a great team when I was the Chief of Behavioral Health Informatics at the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health, and we found ways of even using claims data to get a more complete story!

In that role, I got to present at the SAS Analytics Experience conference and discovered text analytics and natural language processing. I talked the ear off the product manager because it brought me back to my grad school days with my dissertation and some computation linguistics work we did. Advances in technology are helping unlock narrative and qualitative data which, especially in behavioral health, is so rich and gives an opportunity to give an even more whole person perspective.

We can explore more robust mixed-methods designs by leveraging technology to present both quantitative and qualitative data. That’s truly more whole person analytics!

KAIP: Can you explain the intersection of data and semantics in the public sector, and why it matters?

Dr. Morgan: First, we need to remember that data is a very inclusive term. People usually think about structured, quantitative information when they hear the word data, but all information is data. This interview is data. Semantics usually refers to narratives, language, and other qualitative data. As my dissertation was qualitative, I deeply value and appreciate the richness that can be found in semantics. There’s human nuance that just cannot be captured in a quantitative way. Further, when we talk about things like health equity and civic engagement in the public sector, the voice of the consumer, the citizen, the patient, etc., is of paramount importance. Wouldn’t it be great to literally gain insights from the voices our public agencies serve?

The public sector is also unique in that it is the only institution that is truly responsible for all lives and making our communities better holistically. All other private entities have sub-segments, geographies, or populations.

Public agencies cross all industries. Therefore, there is a unique ability to gain a true whole person view into the community that no other institution can really gain.

In this way, though, I believe public agencies have a responsibility to get as complete a view as possible, meaning both quantitative and qualitative data.

KAIP: Can you give an example of using data and semantics to create policy and drive change in the public sector?

Dr. Morgan: When I was with the San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health, we developed a program to conduct outreach and engagement with “resistant, non-compliant” people. One of our evaluation metrics was pretty basic, looking at counts of outpatient utilization pre and post engagement. The first time my team ran the numbers, we showed dozens of visits in the year before engagement. But these were supposed to be those who weren’t in treatment because they were called “resistant and non-compliant.” Digging into the data a little more, we found the nature of the services was overwhelmingly crisis visits and assessments (often multiple assessments with different providers). People who are repeatedly seeking assessments and even crisis visits within a 12-month period are really hard to classify as “resistant.”

This started a conversation internally about whether our language in describing people was accurate in the first place. Then we were able to gain more context from the stories of the consumers served and the care coordination staff who engaged with these folks and even went to appointments with the consumers. Plus, we had focus groups and other narrative stories.

These stories (i.e., semantic data) gave context and insight into the quantitative data we saw, shedding light on the ways our system can be challenging to engage with. It started changing our semantics in describing people in need. No longer did we see these folks as “resistant and non-complaint,” but rather desiring help and facing legitimate barriers to care. That also led to quality improvement policy work to change our system to be more accessible. These insights are also helpful in larger policy conversations about how to engage the harder to reach, high utilization, and expensive populations. It may not be that the consumers need to change as much as the systems aimed to help them need to change.

KAIP: What questions should we ask ourselves to make sure we approach/analyze data in the right way?

Dr. Morgan: Who are we not including in the data? Who are we not including in the interpretation process? In the many conversations around biased algorithms and AI ethics, there’s increasing recognition that we can unintentionally have biased data and results by the absence of some populations. We may not be able to include everyone but attempting to do so is a start. It is critical that we are very clear and intentional about who is included and not included and that we are sure to avoid generalizing results to excluded populations.

What questions am I not asking? Too often I find agencies, especially in the public sector and health, not asking questions because we don’t know how to find the answer. Often this is because of a lack of data or a lack of a data platform to truly unlock insights.

I think people have more helpful data than they realize. There are ways to be creative in answering questions.

It may not be perfect, but proxies can be really helpful in getting at certain ideas. Just because you may not have a perfect methodology or result doesn’t mean you can’t do something to start getting at the information. You can caveat any results so they are not over-interpreted, but starting to explore the questions we stop asking helps get us to more whole person perspectives.

KAIP: How should data be used to inform and drive decision-makers, policies, etc.? How should it not be used?

Dr. Morgan: Data should be the start of the story and conversation and not the end. Some people approach results as the end-all-be-all, but interpretation and application is key. Stakeholder engagement in this interpretation process can gain additional insights and conversations that may not have otherwise occurred if we took data at face value. Data doesn’t just inform decisions and policies; it brings us all together to build dialogue and more compassion for each other by having greater insights into context.

We also need to be careful about “perfect” methodology. A danger in a lot of policymaking and decision-maker requests for data is a default to an academic-like approach. I teach on the side and have published, so I love the academic world. However, laboratory research often doesn’t translate to the messy real-life world, especially in health and particularly in public sector health and social services. I’ve seen a lot of evaluation projects and data initiatives stall because there was any level of data quality challenges or an inability to achieve extreme rigor in statistical significance. We don’t want to dismiss rigor, of course, but when we look at trends across populations, numbers don’t have to be perfect. I use the example of suicide rates and opioid use and deaths. They’re both broadly recognized as undercounts because of the way they’re underreported. But we can still tell when there’s a problem or a trend in a good or a bad direction. Don’t wait for data perfection to start using the data and even starting policy conversations!

Thank you, Dr. Morgan, for your fascinating insights on using data to public policy and public services. Now, for a little fun and games…

KAIP: What was the last show you binge-watched or what is your favorite podcast?

Dr. Morgan: Star Trek Discovery. I grew up on The Next Generation and wore a Star Trek uniform for my fourth-grade school picture, so I’m a long-time Trekker. I watched this series and then thought after Season 2 that my wife would like it, so we just binged both seasons in time for San Diego Comic Con! 🖖

KAIP: What are your favorite productivity or life tips/hacks?

Dr. Morgan: Mindfulness. I was exposed to this more deeply in my clinical work during an intensive training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) when I led a program for adolescent self-injury. As I’ve done intro trainings on mindfulness and DBT, I’ve shared many of the mindfulness principles that have been more helpful in my personal life than in my clinical work!

One example is the principle of effectiveness. I can get stuck in considering what’s right or wrong and delay decisions. When I frame things in terms of effectiveness, it helps reconsider what the long-term goals of the work are and what will practically get us/me there. When I remember to be mindful in this way, I can get unstuck pretty quickly.

KAIP: What are your favorite digital tools/apps?

Dr. Morgan: I travel a lot, so I love my headphones. To the point of mindfulness above, I’ve enjoyed the 10% Happier app as a way to dive deeper into meditation approaches and principles in a scientific way. I also just started subscribing to Calm. It includes a lot of music tracks that are great for flights or even just focusing (or relaxing for sleep). The free chair massages in some airports are a great way to spend some layovers!

Pocket is a great app to collect articles I don’t want to read immediately and then read (often on a plane). I use Evernote for a variety of personal notes and OneNote for my work notes, especially since it synchronizes across my devices. I have an electronic notepad that I can easily take photos of in OneNote and have them on my desktop later.

I also rely on the Associated Press app for news alerts and catching up on the day’s happenings. Although reading the news in bed isn’t the best way to mindfully prepare for sleep…

KAIP: What is your favorite professional book and why?

Dr. Morgan: Tribal Leadership was a book I was exposed to during a leadership course. Its principles have stuck with me, as it talks about corporate and personal culture and values in a new way that can help identify congruency with your own values and challenge where you and your company are. It helps reshape ideas about competition. In the highest stage of development, we’re not focused on “winning” over someone else (meaning they lose), but rather, we’re going to compete with major human problems, like poverty, cancer, homelessness, etc. Winning isn’t about another company, but about moving our world forward. This book helped me evaluate SAS as an employer and was a reason I took a job with SAS—the whole Data for Good initiative is focused on these higher ideals, and we are actually able to make a difference in our world across industries!

KAI Partners is committed to helping find solutions and improvements in our community—we know this is imperative to achieving a stronger, more resilient Sacramento—and we are excited that Dr. Morgan shares this passion with us!

About Dr. Josh Morgan: As SAS’ National Director of Behavioral Health and Whole Person Care, Dr. Josh Morgan helps health agencies use data and analytics to support a person-centered approach to improving health outcomes. A licensed psychologist, Dr. Morgan was previously San Bernardino County Department of Behavioral Health’s Chief of Behavioral Health Informatics. His clinical work includes adolescent self-injury, partial hospitalization, and intensive outpatient programs, psychiatric inpatient units and university counseling centers. Dr. Morgan earned his Bachelor of Arts in Religious Studies from the University of California, Berkeley, and a PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in Family Psychology from Azusa Pacific University and is trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy.

Bonus reading: Here are a few articles by Dr. Morgan that we found compelling:

Sacramento ARMA Records Knowledge Conference Event Recap

Conferences, Cyber Security, Data Management, Government, Information Security, Information Technology, Innovation in the Public Sector, IT Modernization, IT Security, KAI Partners, Public Sector, Ransomware, Risk Assessment, Sacramento, Technology

By Jamal Hartenstein, JD, CISSP, CGEIT, PMP

The Greater Sacramento Capitol Chapter of ARMA recently held its annual Records Knowledge Conference, which brought together records managers from city, county, and state clerk offices.

According to our local ARMA chapter, ARMA is dedicated to providing education and resources to those in the Records Management and Information Governance fields. They are committed to enhancing Records Management and Information Governance professionals through training, networking, leadership, and outreach.

The conference attendees brought a sense of eagerness to learn and share—ARMA chapter leadership gave event attendees a special opportunity to hear from world-class speakers—including and a lead researcher on the IBM Watson project, Dr. Ashish Kundu—on some of the most important and cutting-edge topics.

Along with a formidable group CEOs, I was honored to be asked to speak about Cybersecurity Threats to Information Governance. Highlights of the event and major takeaways included:

  • Understanding what data you have, who accesses it, and where it goes is paramount.
  • Conflicts among document retention policies, industry best practices, and laws suggest that we seek out and use the highest common denominator.
  • Trending topics and buzzwords the government sector include players like Smart Communities, Artificial Intelligence (AI), Digital ID, Blockchain, NIST, and the KAI Partners approach to security assessments.
  • Data Migrations are underway. Records Managers who respond to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests for public records or subpoena must deliver records formats adhering to general business practices, which may be legacy.
  • Regarding Third Party Risk Management (TPRM), cloud services, and Business Associate Agreements, liability points back to the data controller regardless of contracts with data processors or third parties.
  • Mobile device management and data/device ownership remain a point of contention and confusion during public record requests.
  • Innovation is forcing a cultural shift in workforce demands and understandings of emerging technologies.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI) solutions can be used to categorize and classify data, performing some of the tasks of current Data Custodians and Data Owners.
  • While AI may not replace Records Managers, Records Managers who understand and embrace AI will inevitably replace those who do not.

Public sector IT innovation and modernization means systems and processes change rapidly. One example of this is California Assembly Bill 2658, recently signed into law by the governor. This new law updates the definition of an Electronic Record to include blockchain and smart contracts as legally recognized records. It sends a clear signal that digital records management, particularly blockchain technology and smart contracts, are priorities for a more innovative and dynamic public sector.

This new law impacts public records requests because entries logged in public agency-owned private blockchains are electronic records. These records are susceptible to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). Records Managers may benefit from technology that makes the identification and delivery of public records to requestors easier. It may also create convenience for those exercising Public Records Act (PRA) requests. It’s a double-edged sword; it streamlines the processes but increases PRA volume at the same time.

The discussion of the California blockchain law was one most important topics discussed at the ARMA event. Another popular topic was IT Security Assessments.

The urgency in public sector data governance and records management is an incredible opportunity to embed IT security controls for the public sector personnel working at the heart of the ever-expanding challenges.

KAI Partners performs security assessments to address the multitude of challenges facing the public sector. Our assessments help ensure secure and efficient delivery systems where the organizational objectives align with the development of strategic plans and programs. In addition, KAI Partners’ training division—KAIP Academy—works to address technical skills gaps. Our training courses include ITIL, Project Management, Agile/Scrum, and more.

Were you at the ARMA Conference? What were your biggest takeaways about public sector innovation?

About the Author: IT Security Program Manager at KAI Partners, Jamal Hartenstein is a cybersecurity legal expert who has helped some of the country’s largest financial institutions, healthcare companies, and federal agencies develop their IT Security Roadmap programs. In his current role, Jamal provides guidance to executive staff and security professionals on laws, frameworks, and policies that help shape their strategic plan, and helps organizations innovate safely and securely. Prior to working for KAI Partners, Jamal served as an Electronic Warfare Sergeant in the U.S. Army Military Intelligence Corps, where he was a steward for Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) framework. He earned his undergraduate degree from Georgia Military College and his Juris Doctorate from University of the Pacific, McGeorge School of Law in California.

Big Data and Hadoop: A high-level overview for the layperson

Big Data, Data Management, Information Technology, Internet of Things, Sacramento, Technology

By Sid Richardson, PMP, CSM

I have been in the data warehousing practice since 1994, when I implemented a successful Distributed Data Warehouse for a flagship banking product, followed by co-developing Oracle’s Data Warehouse Methodology. In August 1997, I was invited to speak at the Data Warehouse Institute Conference in Boston.

Over the years, I’ve researched and implemented what I would consider some small scale/junior Big Data systems. I have an interest in Big Data and wanted to share my learnings on Big Data and Hadoop as a high-level overview for the layperson / busy executive.

What is Big Data?

Big Data defines an IT approach used to process the enormous amounts of available information from social media, emails, log files, text, camera/video, sensors, website clickstreams, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, audio, and other sources of information in combination with existing computer files and database data.

In the 1990s, three major trends occurred to make up Big Data: “Big” Transaction Data, “Big” Interaction Data, and “Big” Data Processing.

In 2001, Big Data was defined by Doug Laney, former Vice President and Distinguished Analyst with the Gartner Chief Data Officer (CDO) research and advisory team. Mr. Laney defined Big Data by the “three Vs”:

    1. Velocity – Speed of incoming data feeds.
    2. Variety – Unstructured data, social media, documents, images.
    3. Volume – Large quantities of data.

IBM decided to add two more Vs:

    1. Veracity – Accuracy of the data.
    2. Value – To define Big Data.

Why do we need Big Data?

In a nutshell: We need Big Data because there is a lot of data to process, for example:

Also noted by The Economist, the abundance of data and tools to capture, process, and share all this information already exceeds the available storage space (and the number of eyes on the planet to review and analyze it all!)

According to Forbes’s 2018 article, “How Much Data Do We Create Every Day? The Mind-Blowing Stats Everyone Should Read,” there are 2.5 quintillion bytes of data created each day. And, over the last two years alone, 90 percent of the data in the world was generated.

Clearly, the creation of data is expanding at an astonishing pace—from the amount of data being produced to the way in which it’s re-structured for analysis and used. This trend presents enormous challenges, but it also presents incredible opportunities.

You’re probably thinking, alright, I get the big data thing, but why couldn’t data warehouses perform this role? Well, data warehouses are large, complex, and expensive projects that typically run approximately 12-18 month-long durations with high failure rates (The failure rate of data warehouses across all industries is high—Gartner once estimated that as many as 50 percent of data warehouse projects would have only limited acceptance or fail entirely).

A new approach to handle Big Data was born: Hadoop.

What is Hadoop?

In a nutshell, Hadoop is a Java-based framework governed by the Apache Software Foundation (ASF) that initially addressed the ‘Volume’ and ‘Variety’ aspects of Big Data and provided a distributed, fault-tolerant, batched data processing environment (one record at a time, but designed to scale to Petabyte-sized file processing).

Hadoop was created out of a need to substantially reduce the cost of storage for massive volumes of data for analysis and does so by emulating a distributed parallel processing environment by networking many cheap, existing commodity processors and storage together, rather than using dedicated hardware and storage solutions.

Why Hadoop?

The Challenges with Hadoop

There is a limited understanding about Hadoop across the IT industry. Hadoop has operational limitations and performance challenges—you need to resort to several extended components to make it work and to make it reliable. And, Hadoop is becoming more fragmented, pulled by different commercial players trying to leverage their own solutions.

In summary…

The Hadoop Framework addresses a number of previous challenges facing the processing of Big Data for analysis. The explosion in deployment of data capture devices across all industries world-wide necessitated a more cost-effective way to store and access the massive volumes of data accumulating by the second!

I hope this blog post has provided you with a better understanding of some key Big Data and Hadoop concepts and technologies. Have you worked with Big Data and/or Hadoop? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments!

P.S. If you have gotten this far and are curious where the name Hadoop comes from, here you go! The name ‘Hadoop’ was coined by one of the sons of Doug Cutting, a software designer and advocate and creator of open-source search technology. Mr. Cutting’s son gave the name ‘Hadoop’ to his toy elephant and Mr. Cutting used the name for his open source project because it was easy to pronounce.

About the Author: Mr. Richardson’s passion is Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence, Master Data Management and Data Architectures. He has helped Fortune 500 companies in the US, Europe, Canada, and Australia lead large-scale corporate system and data initiatives and teams to success. His experience spans 30 years in the Information Technology space, specifically with experience in data warehousing, business intelligence, information management, data migrations, converged infrastructures and recently Big Data. Mr. Richardson’s industry experience includes: Finance and Banking, government, utilities, insurance, retail, manufacturing, telecommunications, healthcare, large-scale engineering and transportation sectors.

KAI Partners Staff Profile: The Data Architect

Business Analysis, Data Architect, Data Management, Data Science, Government, IT Modernization, KAI Partners, KAI Partners Staff Profile, Learning, Project Management, Sacramento, Technology, Training

There are many paths to success and while not everyone takes the same path, we often manage to arrive at the same destination. In our KAI Partners Staff Profile series, we share interviews and insight from some of our own employees here at KAI Partners. Our staff brings a diversity in education, professional, and life experience, all of which demonstrate that the traditional route is not necessarily the one that must be traveled in order to achieve success.

Today, we bring you the journey of Ajay Bhat, Senior Data Architect, KAI Partners Inc. who works as Enterprise Data Architect for one of KAI Partners’ public sector clients. His role involves managing different Data Management activities and architecting solutions to meet the client’s needs.

KAI Partners, Inc.: How did you get into your line of work?

Ajay Bhat: My first job as GET (Graduate Engineer Trainee) was assisting in doing Business Process Reengineering and helping implement Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). Though a Mechanical Engineer by background, my first job introduced me to various IT tools used for ERP implementation.  Over a period of time, I got trained in different ERP softwares.

KAI: Are there any certifications or trainings you’ve gone through that have helped in your career?

AB: Staying up with technology is something that I have always liked. I have completed certifications in Oracle, JAVA, and SAS. I did some self-learning courses in Big Data technologies and Data Science. I also went back to school to get my MBA in Business Intelligence from University of Colorado, Denver.

KAI: What is your favorite part about your line of work and why?

AB: Problem solving is my favorite part of my job. When I go to work, there is always an issue to resolve that involves some aspect of critical thinking. Using technology to implement solutions is another thing I like about my job.

KAI: What is one of the most common question you receive from clients and what counsel or advice do you give them?

AB: Depending on the project, the questions may vary, but most frequently I am asked how I am able to switch the roles on a project so fast. One day I may be a Database programmer, DBA another day, data Modeler, BI guy, or Data Architect some other day. Switching between roles is what I do frequently. My answer to this is that any role is a series of small logical steps. It may seem quite overwhelming from a distance, but if we break it down into a series of logical steps, it is doable. This directly applies to any problem solving I do in my day-to-day life as well.

Now that we’ve learned more about Ajay’s data architecture work, here’s a little more about him!

Quick Q&A with Ajay:

Daily, must-visit website(s):
https://github.com/
https://www.kdnuggets.com/datasets/index.html
https://www.kaggle.com/
https://slack.com/

Preferred genre of music or podcast to listen to: Classic jazz, Bollywood music

Best professional advice received: At the end of day it is just another day at work, do your best.

Book you can read over and over again: Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda

Most-recent binge-watched show: I don’t binge watch now, but did binge “24” a while ago

 About Ajay: Ajay currently supports a public sector client doing Data Management. Besides work, he loves outdoor activities, racquetball, running and a game of chess. He also practices meditation regularly.

What the KAI Partners Team is Thankful for in 2017

Communications, Data Management, Employee Engagement, General Life/Work, KAI Partners, Organizational Change Management (OCM), Project Management, Project Management Professional (PMP), Prosci, Sacramento, SAHRA—The Sacramento Area Human Resources Association, SHRM, Small Business, Team Building, Training


From the KAI Partners team to yours, we wish you a happy, healthy, and stress-free Thanksgiving holiday.

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