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Be Prepared: Big Data Is Not a Passing Fad


In the next few years, nearly all government agencies will grapple with how to integrate their dispa­rate data sources, build analytical capacities and move toward a data-driven decision-making environment. Big data is increasing in importance for the public sector, and big data programs are expected to become more prominent in the near future.  Through the use of big data, ana­lytics now holds great promise for increasing the efficiency of operations and increasing citizen engagement.

A new report from the IBM Center for the Business of Government, “Realizing the Promise of Big Data: Implementing Big Data Projects,” provides a clear and useful introduction to the concept of big data, which is receiving increasing attention as a term, but also lacks a commonly understood definition. “Big data is an evolving concept that refers to the growth of data and how it is used to optimize business processes, create customer value and miti­gate risks,” Kevin Desouza of Arizona State University writes in the report, which describes the differences in the use of big data in the public and private sectors.

The report includes descriptions of how big data is being used in federal, state and local govern­ment. Examples include the Internal Revenue Service, the state of Massachusetts, and the New York City Business Integrity Commission.

Desouza conducted inter­views with chief information officers across the United States at the federal, state and local levels to better understand the implementation challenges their organizations face as they undertake big data projects. Here are 10 key findings from his interviews:

  1. Public agencies are in the early days of their big data efforts.
  2. Many CIOs fight the perception that big data is a passing fad.
  3. Most CIOs are now primarily dealing with the issue of managing large volumes of data, integrating data across database systems and building an analytical capacity to mine data.
  4. CIOs report that some big data projects are now focused on streamlining business processes.
  5. CIOs do not anticipate significant investments in technology.
  6. CIOs report a need to bolster their human capital, including their analytical capability.
  7. CIOs are now exploring approaches to data governance.
  8. CIOs do not recommend IT units as owners of big data projects.
  9. CIOs believe that collaborative leadership is crucial for the success of big data projects and recommend the creation of working groups to oversee projects.
  10. CIOs are becoming champions of analytics and evidence-driven decision-making.

Big data is a new frontier for the public sector and has captured the attention of public manag­ers across the globe. Agencies realize that their datasets represent critical resources that need to be managed and leveraged. Public sector use of big data and analytics is wide-ranging. Some organizations have no experience with big data, while others have taken on small to moderate-sized projects. Drawing on the CIO interviews, the report details the three key steps public man­agers should consider as they embark on big data projects -- planning, execution and implementation.

The report continues the IBM Center’s interest in the concepts of big data and analytics. In cooperation with the Partnership for Public Service, the IBM Center for The Business of Government recently issued its third report on analytics: From Data to Decisions III: Lessons from Early Analytics ProgramThe use of analytics in agency program management and decision-making relies on big data, and these reports provide a roadmap for federal leaders as they continue their quest to better use data that they collect on an ongoing basis.

(Image via takasu/

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