How to Get Past the ‘Big Data’ Hype


Agencies can avoid succumbing to the hype surrounding “big data” by tying analysis of performance information to mission-critical goals and giving rank-and-file employees access to numbers, according to a new report from a nonprofit and a consultancy.

“Today’s analytics projects often are driven top-down by program managers or agency leaders seeking to comply with administration mandates, husband their resources and take advantage of new technology,” the Partnership for Public Service and IBM Center for the Business of Government stated. “The lesson from grass-roots- driven older projects is that managers should not overlook the payoff that comes from enabling employees to see and use data organized for their needs.”

The report -- part of a series -- profiled the Veterans Health Administration’s analytics work on assessing care needs, such as the likelihood of hospitalization; the Defense Department's efforts in biometrics for identity protection; the Agriculture Department Animal Plant Health Inspection Service’s work with the Homeland Security Department on shipping containers and the risk of pest infestation; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s efforts at detecting food-borne illnesses; and the U.S. Agency for International Development’s bid to predict coming needs for emergency aid in weather disasters or famines.

Agencies should draw five lessons from the study, the authors wrote:

  • Collaborate with other agencies to collect data and share analytics expertise;
  • Develop data to determine return on investment for analytics programs;
  • Give agency leaders clear, concise analysis and proof of adoption, and results they can use to support data-driven programs;
  • Encourage data use and spark insights by enabling employees to easily see, combine and analyze it; and
  • Make sure leaders and managers demand and use data and provide employees with targeted on-the-job training.

(Image via Genialbaron/

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