Big Data to tame Big Government? The answer is the Question.

Today my boss at Dell, John Igoe, is part of announcing of the report from the TechAmerica Federal Big Data Commission (direct pdf), I was fully expecting the report to be a real snoozer brimming with corporate synergies and win-win externalities. Instead, I found myself reading a practical guide to applying Big Data to government. Flipping past the short obligatory “what is…” section, the report drives right into a survey of practical applications for big data spanning nearly every governmental service. Over half of the report is dedicated to case studies with specific recommendations and buying criteria.

Ultimately, the report calls for agencies to treat data as an asset. An asset that can improve how government operates.

There are a few items that stand out in this report:

  1. Need for standards on privacy and governance. The report calls out a review and standardization of cross agency privacy policy (pg 35) and a Chief Data Officer position each agency (pg 37).
  2. Clear tables of case studies on page 16 and characteristics on page 11 that help pin point a path through the options.
  3. Definitive advice to focus on a single data vector (velocity, volume or variety) for initial success on page 28 (and elsewhere)

I strongly agree with one repeated point in the report: although there is more data available, our ability to comprehend this data is reduced. The sheer volume of examples the report cites is proof enough that agencies are, and will be continue to be, inundated with data.

One short coming of this report is that it does not flag the extreme storage of data scientists. Many of the cases discussed assume a ready army of engineers to implement these solutions; however, I’m uncertain how the government will fill positions in a very tight labor market. Ultimately, I think we will have to simply open the data for citizen & non-governmental analysis because, as the report clearly states, data is growing faster than capability to use it.

I commend the TechAmerica commission for their Big Data clarity: success comes from starting with a narrow scope. So the answer, ironically, is in knowing which questions we want to ask.

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