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Government Agencies Can Put Big Data to Work

15 Mar 2016 by Christine Kern

Despite all the potential of big data, it still has a relatively minor impact on government to date, largely because of skepticism regarding the initial steps toward its implementation.

A recent MeriTalk study of 150 federal IT professionals found federal agencies could save 14% with analytics programs — or approximately $500 billion — and yet only 31% of those that had launched an analytics project said they believed their data strategies would deliver.

Today’s government data systems

Evolving technology and the explosion of information are transforming how business is conducted in many industries — government agencies included. They collect an array of valuable data that could provide important, actionable insights. The government market is at a tipping point, realizing information is a strategic asset to help make better decisions, better serve the community, and meet citizen needs and presidential requirements.

In fact, President Obama’s new budget dedicated an entire chapter to proposals that would expand access to administration data in order to engage in big data analysis in an effort to make better use of private-sector data and employ modern statistical techniques to the analysis of various sources to provide accurate, detailed and relevant insights.

Among the current innovative and powerful government big data projects are the 1000 Genomes Project, DARPA’s PROCEED project, BioSense 2.0, GenISIS and the Million Veterans Program, and the FDA’s Virtual Laboratory Environment.

“The trend to see and use information as an asset is still in the 'early adoption' phase, making doing so a competitive differentiator for leading organizations. But even where information leaders have embraced this idea, there's an array of challenges to transform the idea of value into a reality that benefits the organization. Information has economic value that organizations can 'turn into money' in two ways: selling, bartering or licensing it; and by using it to reduce costs or increase revenue. Yet most information and business leaders lack the experience and tools to monetize information,” asserts the Gartner report, “Seven Steps to Monetizing Your Information Assets,” published October 15, 2015.

Similar skepticism was revealed in a recent IBM report, “Realizing the Promise of Big Data: Implementing Big Data Projects,” which used interviews from 28 federal, state and city CIOs to uncover a widespread battle against the perception of big data as a “passing fad.”

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Commissioner Erica Groshen, the real promise of administrative data is that it would open new avenues of research. Meanwhile, last year, Washington Sen. Patty Murray (D) and Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan (R) joined forces to sponsor a bill to create a commission to recommend ways to expand access to and use of government data in policymaking.

A report from Thought Leadership stated, “Easy and timely retrieval and analysis of related and unrelated information is crucial for government to meet and improve mission requirements that are varied across agencies. Data continues to be generated and digitally archived at increasing rates driven by Open Government initiatives, sensors, citizen interactions and program transactions. Government organizations are beginning to deploy big data technologies to analyze massive data sets in science and research as well as mine data to prevent bad actors from committing acts of terror and/or to prevent waste, fraud and abuse.”

In a recent survey, sponsored by Unisys Corporation, respondents reported that big data has helped the federal government improve decision making, identify trends and quantify risk. However, staffing for those analytics projects remains a concern due to a lack of qualified candidates to meet the current demand.

“Organizations not known for their use of large volumes of data are beginning to see the potential of advanced data analytics,” explains Rod Fontecilla, vice president of advanced data analytics at Unisys Federal.

Tomorrow’s government data systems

“Looking to the future, the Internet of Things will have a big impact on all enterprises,” says Fontecilla. “Connected devices will yield the kind of data necessary for today’s — and tomorrow’s — business insights and value. Having a flexible and scalable analytics platform, together with a cadre of data scientists to analyze the large volume of data, will be indispensable to get these insights.”

Ultimately, the strategic and savvy use of big data analytics means reimagining not only how data is used, but also how government connects the various sources of information in a meaningful way. To find out how your government agency can benefit from the power of big data analytics, access the Gartner report, “Seven Steps to Monetizing Your Information Assets.”