Many U.S. government agencies have spared no effort to capture massive quantities of data that can give them better insight into society or the respective sectors the agency serves. Some might even argue that the federal government has excelled at data collection to a fault. But the healthy majority of federal agencies are interested in using big data to benefit the public in concrete ways, and herein lies the biggest data-related challenge.
How 'big' is big data?
A report released by the White House in May 2014 stated that in 2013, the world's population generated an estimated 4 zettabytes of data. The author of the report pointed out that Leo Tolstoy's classic story "War and Peace" would fit into a single zettabyte 323 trillion times.
To put government big data in perspective, imagine that all of the letters of all of these copies were scrambled together into unintelligible fragments of text. The result would be a fair, if not watered down, representation of what federal agencies currently face when trying to make sense of information that exists in the form of social media communications, Web forums, public records, mobile applications and much more.
Advanced big data strategies can help
One way to sift through this ocean of information is through advanced data analytics systems, according to the findings of a survey released Oct. 6 via Unisys Corporation. The overwhelming majority (93 percent) of participating federal executives said use of elaborate data analytics that yield simple, actionable insight can help expedite decision-making within their respective agencies, and at lower costs. Additionally, 87 percent of survey respondents said that the ability to understand government big data helps predict trends and preemptively assess risks. So far, agencies that have successfully made use of big data analytics have seen clear benefits as a result.
"Forward-thinking agencies within the federal government have proven the value of advanced data analytics in mission areas ranging from protecting against potential threats related to goods and people crossing our borders to projects for evaluating the potential delinquency risk of federal loan programs," Rod Fontecilla, Vice President for advanced data analytics at Unisys, said.
The one caveat to these findings is that nearly 70 percent of respondents are concerned that government technology services are not capable of managing this data, let alone analyzing it effectively. The survey's findings suggest that only 16 percent of surveyed agencies have complete big data initiatives in place, while 40 percent have not made specific plans regarding the use of big data as a tool for decision-making and project execution.
What the future holds in store
With no signs of data production slowing down in a connected world, most government agencies and federal bodies worldwide will adapt big data management and analytics strategies; it is more a question of "when" than "if" at this point. According to the survey, 68 percent of respondents are hiring more data analysts now or intend to in the near future. As a result, federal agencies will hopefully serve the public quickly and more efficiently at lower operational costs in years to come as big data analytics becomes easier to roll out and more widespread.