Beyond open data: Insights through analytics

city analysis (Who is Danny/Shutterstock.com)

The federal government is taking big steps to share information and make data more free and open. Thanks to legislation like the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, agencies are now required to post standardized spending data on the USASpending.gov site. Other initiatives, like the Government Publishing Office’s GovInfo.gov, let citizens use full-text searching and metadata to sift through decades of digitized content. It seems as if we are entering a new chapter of open data. But what, exactly can governments do with this data on hand? How do citizens and public officials make the most of this unprecedented level of access to information?

Analytics are what allows government to use “data as a flashlight, not as a hammer,” according to “A Practical Guide to Analytics for Governments,” recently produced by the team at the SAS Institute and published by Wiley.

The book celebrates information sharing and the wide range of data available on the municipal level in particular — from smart streetlights that also collect info on pedestrian foot traffic to rail equipment outfitted with sensors so that repairs can be made as needed, rather than on a maintenance schedule. (An innovation that Washingtonians inconvenienced by D.C. Metro’s months of “SafeTrack” repairs might envy). Overlaying of municipal code enforcement and police activity data reveals unexpected correlations between property neglect and crime, and having studied algebra in high school is connected to markedly higher income achievement later in life.

“Armed with insights” from shared data, officials in Arizona’s Pinal County used the strength of analytics to more effectively understand already-existing health data in a way that would better protect the public from heat stroke. Investigators were surprised to discover that analytics revealed the highest threat of heat-related illness was not found among the elderly — as had been expected — but instead, among the young people of this Arizona community.

Small agencies can benefit from analytics as much as larger ones.  The book’s authors make the case that smaller cities may be best positioned to take advantage of technology advances because there is “less infrastructure to retrofit.” Since only 300 U.S. cities have populations that exceed 100,000, they add, the opportunities for data-driven innovation are substantial.

State-level open-data success stories are also hailed, most especially the example of  North Carolina, which “opened its 2017 budget for citizen scrutiny” with a new visual analytics tool.

But more important than making data itself available, the authors argue, is recognizing the challenge of melding data into analytics. After all, they assert, “typical government IT projects are built in a siloed approach,” which means that while agencies have torrents of data, often not a drop is shared. Teachers are not given the opportunity to proactively provide remedial attention to students. Police don’t have background information to help them approach a suspect with either greater caution or more compassion.  The book also looks at applications in transportation, public health, child welfare, prescription drug abuse, fraud prevention, and it methodically lays out both the depth of missed opportunities and the possibility of a brighter future.

As government at every level updates its IT assets, the book warns CIOs that “[a]cquiring technology for technology’s sake … rarely achieves the expected outcome.” Instead, the book makes the case that the emphasis should be on “building an analytics-driven government” and leveraging data to “build stronger analytics capabilities.”

“A Practical Guide to Analytics for Government” lives up to its title and concludes with a specific suggested solution. Establishing an official center of analytics, the authors write, can help agencies create a keen awareness of the importance of “building common competency … [that] enhances government analytic success through shared experience.”

Some cities have begun to work in that direction, and the City of Boston’s Citywide Analytics Team and the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics are hailed for seeking “innovative ways to leverage data.”

Such efforts could even unite an otherwise polarized political community, the authors suggest, since “both Republicans and Democrats value opening the public’s business to citizens.” Indeed, they contend that during a time when the citizens increasingly distrust political leadership, “open data can . . . promote legitimacy.”

More importantly, though, the authors stress that governments at all levels should be “breaking down barriers to sharing and accessing information … to ensure frontline workers, management, and policymakers have the knowledge they need.”   After all, as Shawn P. McCarthy, research director of IDC Government Insights, is quoted as saying about this book, “in many ways, modern government is information.”

[“Source-gcn”]

New Money Transfer Scam Asks For Payment Through iTune Gift Cards

itunes

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has warned of a new scam where criminals dupe people into paying fraudulent claims through iTunes gift cards.

The FTC said that scammers are pretending to be agents from the IRS or U.S. Treasury and demanding that you pay back taxes via an iTunes gift card.

Yes, an iTunes card.

Crooks pretending to be from the IRS are nothing new, but requesting fraudulent payments through iTunes — that is new.

How the iTunes IRS Scam Works

The iTunes IRS scam can take various forms. At one point, the FTC pointed out that crooks might mail or fax falsified forms to seem more legitimate and gain a business owner’s trust.

Other times, the fraudsters produce your Social Security Number, or at least the last four digits, so as to come across as the real deal when demanding money.

And many of these fraudsters are very aggressive and nasty when demanding money on the spot, often threatening jail time.

Police in Port St. Lucie, Florida, recorded an incident where the iTunes IRS scammers duped one man into buying an iTunes card worth $2,300 at a local Target store, according to a report from the Palm Beach Post.

The victim was asked to meet a man claiming to be an agent with the IRS and who knew the victim’s personal information at a local store. The victim was then given a phone number to call to settle the debt. The person on the other end of the line also claimed to be with the IRS, and told the victim to purchase an iTunes card or another gift card and to call back with the authorization number.

If he didn’t call back with the authorization number, the impersonator said the victim would be arrested for not paying his debt.

The FTC has observed that the scammers usually ask people to pay a certain way because they want to make it easy to get the money — and nearly impossible for you to get it back. As soon as you put money on a card and share the code with them, the money’s gone for good.

The fraudsters use that information to sell the gift cards online and receive cash.

More Vigilance Needed When Using Gift Cards

Gift cards, including Amazon gift cards and other reloadable cards like Reloadit, MoneyPak and Vanilla, are becoming notorious because con artists are taking advantage of the popularity and convenience of the cards to carry out criminal activities.

According to the iTunes Support page: “iTunes will never ask you to provide personal information or sensitive account information (such as credit card numbers or passwords) via email. That means you should be wary of any requests asking you to place funds on an iTunes gift card or other prepaid card to pay your taxes and fees. That is a definite red flag.

But gift cards aren’t the only way people are being conned lately. Other payment methods that scammers are using to defraud unsuspecting people in these “money transfer” scams include money wiring services like Western Union and MoneyGram.

The FTC says government offices won’t ask you to use these payment methods. It adds that if you’re not shopping at the iTunes store, you shouldn’t be paying with an iTunes gift card anyway. Moreover, if you are targeted by an iTunes IRS  scam or any scam involving gift cards,  the FTC urges you to report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

Image: Apple

[“source-ndtv”]

Should You Raise Money Through Non-Accredited Investor Equity Crowdfunding?

crowded street

U.S. startups can now raise money from non-accredited investors through online platforms. But just because this type of fundraising is possible doesn’t mean you should use it.

Non-accredited investor equity crowdfunding makes sense for certain types of startups, but not for others.

Here are five types of start-ups that should pass on equity crowdfunding to non-accredited investors:

1. Businesses that Need to Raise a Lot of Money

Early estimates suggest that the average equity crowdfunding investment by a non-accredited investor is around $1,000. That’s way too small for companies that need to raise several million dollars in capital.

Simple division tells us that a company that needs to raise $7 million would need to take on 7,000 non-accredited investors to meet its funding demands. That is far too many shareholders for a private company to manage effectively.

2. Businesses Needing Multiple Rounds of Financing

Ventures that naturally develop in a staged fashion — like bio-medical companies that need to first prove out their technology, then go through multiple phases of FDA approval, and finally manufacture and market a product — are going to have problems raising money through equity crowdfunding.

Non-accredited investors will likely lack the financial wherewithal to support additional, larger, capital raises. Moreover, when a company raises money through multiple investment rounds, it issues new shares, which dilute down the holdings of investors who do not put in additional funds.

Because few non-accredited investors understand the math of dilution, convincing them to make an additional investment that involves it will likely be difficult.

3. Very Early Stage Businesses

To convince investors to put money into new businesses, entrepreneurs need to persuade them of the future value of the ventures. That is very difficult when the investors have no information about product characteristics, customer adoption patterns, past financial performance or any of the more tangible dimensions on which investors evaluate companies.

Few non-accredited investors have the experience to make these kinds of evaluations, which makes convincing them to make those investments difficult.

4. Businesses that are Difficult to Describe in an Online Format

Because of the small size of non-accredited equity crowdfunding investments, pitching these investors in person is not cost effective. Entrepreneurs will need to pitch their ventures online. Attracting investors online will be easier for ventures that can be understood from viewing a video or seeing a description on a website than for ventures that require a discussion to comprehend.

5. Business-to-Business Ventures

Because people tend to invest in companies they understand, the pool of potential B2B investors on equity crowdfunding platforms will be small.

Unless the crowdfunding site is very large, and tends to attract people from the industry in which a given venture operates, entrepreneurs with B2B ventures will find it tough to attract enough investors to fill their funding needs through non-accredited investor equity crowdfunding.


Crowded Street Photo via Shutterstock

More in: Crowdfunding

[“source-ndtv”]

Productivity Tool: Listen to Phone Calls Through Your Fingertip?

Productivity Tool: Sgnl Smart Strap Lets You Make Phone Calls with Your Fingertips

Remember those slick spy movies where the hero simply pressed a button to make a quick call during a covert mission? The secret agent fantasy is all set to become a reality when Sgnl, a smart strap hits the market soon.

Sgnl is currently raising funds on Kickstarter.

How Does the Sgnl Smart Strap Work?

What’s most fascinating about Sgnl is its simplicity. To take a call, you need to just place your fingertip to your ear and speak through an embedded microphone in  the strap of your watch.

What’s more, you can simply replace your current watch strap with Sgnl and have your own Secret Service-like gadget. It doesn’t matter if you wear a Samsung Gear or just a classic watch, all you need is the Sgnl strap to start making calls.

As far as voice clarity is concerned, Sgnl improves user experience by blocking out background noise. In other words, you can hear everything clearly, even when you’re in a crowded place. And because sound is contained within your ear, Sgnl ensures only you hear the voice, not those around you.

Compatibility with Watches

Sgnl complements smartwatches by allowing you to monitor your activity and receive notifications, while having complete call privacy through fingertip communication. This however, doesn’t mean that it’s designed only for smartwatch users.

The strap can easily transform your classic watch into a hybrid smartwatch with fingertip communication, smart alert features and fitness tracking.

You may also wear it as a standalone smart band while retaining all its core features.

Smart Straps: The Next Big Thing?

Interest in smart straps seems to be growing at a steady pace. Take the Pal smart strap, for instance. This new GPS and battery smart strap turns the Pebble Time device into a sports tracker.

Speculations are also rife that Apple may be launching a multi-function band along the second-generation wearable soon.

For now, Sgnl is generating significant interest in the tech space. The product has already received 3,178 backers — earliest backers pledging $99 or more will receive one Sgnl smart strap set.

Image: Sgnl

[“source-smallbiztrends”]