Forget Big Data, It’s About Big Analytics

One of the metaphors we have been using for Big Data is big oil, and for good reason. Striking oil means the potential for huge profits. Much of that same enthusiasm is often associated with the capacity for insight garnered from Big Data. Although identifying Big Data as black gold may be a fitting metaphor, finding real value in Big Data may be more difficult. If a strategy for harnessing and leveraging information is not developed in concert with data collection, then Big Data may not deliver the insights needed for mission success.

In light of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative (FDCCI), agencies have been taking stock of their troves of data. A December 2012 IDC Digital Universe Report estimated that just 3 percent of data worldwide is tagged (i.e. organized), and just .5 percent is leveraged for analysis. This is likely due to a lack of capacity for analysis in federal agencies. Similarly, in a February 2013 report titled, “Turning Optimism into Reality: How Big Data is Transforming Government,” the Government Business Council (GBC) and Booz Allen Hamilton noted that just 37 percent of managers surveyed felt their agencies had the technical skills to leverage Big Data. As a result, only 31 percent felt their agency was fully leveraging all of the data it collects.

Agencies create and collect a significant amount of data every day, but without a technological means for analysis to compensate for skills shortfalls, these efforts are futile. Enterprises that hope to derive value from their data need to emphasize Big Analytics in their Big Data strategies.

With the advent of evidence based budgeting and the Government Performance and Results (GPRA) Modernization Act, as well as the White House’s Digital Government Strategy and recently release executive order that makes “open and machine readable” the new default for the release of government information,” there is a renewed imperative among federal leaders to improve decision-making with information derived from data. However, as noted, just 3 percent of data is tagged and thus fit for analysis with traditional analytic software. Enabling analysts to access and analyze a wider variety and greater depth of the data will likely lead to better information, meaning better decision-making from senior leaders.

Prescriptive analytics is one of the greatest examples of the level of insight that could be garnered from analytics capabilities. With Big Analytics technologies, we have the capability to not only model likely outcomes and identify risks, but to make informed decisions with set objectives and parameters.

Because agencies seek to achieve missions, not necessarily profits, data analytics need to be flexible enough to make prescriptive assessments. Before, these assessments were subject to the limitation of the technologies available, but now we are seeing changes in technology to account for these needs. 

There is immense optimism in government regarding the use of Big Data. According to the GBC survey, 69 percent of the federal managers believe Big Data has the power to fundamentally transform federal operations. In parallel with expanding our data collection and storage, let’s also focus on making use of the data we have. As the White House continues to invest in Big Data programs, we need to be cognizant of spending those dollars wisely on leveraging the entire data portfolio. Rather than focus on efforts with low returns, agencies would be best served investing in technologies that enable greater use of data that is already collected. Now it’s a matter of providing the tools for that transformation. We’ve identified and surveyed the oil reservoirs, now we need to invest in drills and wells. 

Mark Herman, a Booz Allen Hamilton Executive Vice President based in Rockville, Maryland, leads the Value from Data initiative in the firm’s Strategic Innovation Group. A leader in the firm’s modeling, simulation, wargaming, and analysis work, he has more than 30 years of experience designing and developing wargames on a variety of strategic and boardroom topics for the US Department of Defense and Fortune 500 companies. Mr. Herman is a leader in the development of wargame and simulation methodologies emphasizing strategic planning, the development of measures of effectiveness, and economic analysis.

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