As big data analytics continues to prove its value in the business sector, government agencies and public institutions are adopting big data techniques in order to gain valuable insights relevant to their areas of responsibility. Government agencies have amassed petabytes of data about people, places and things, and with the help of big data, that stored information can now be mined for valuable insights.
To demonstrate the value that the public sector sees in big data, the White House has committed to a $200 million big data initiative that spans all federal agencies, including the Department of Defense, Department of Energy, U.S. Geological Survey and DARPA. Part of the government big data initiative is a plan to cut the number of federal data centers by 40 percent by migrating resources to the cloud, resulting in a savings of $5 billion. Another example is the National Institutes of Health (NIH), which has the largest database of variations of the human genome—200 terabytes of data—readily available on Amazon Web Services.
Use cases span public and private
To apply big data analytics, you have to develop the right use case: the question to which your customer is you are seeking an answer. For the most part, basic use cases for the public sector are similar to the ones that are valuable for businesses .
1. Complete customer profile – Retailers and other businesses can assimilate click traffic, online behavior, call center data, social media content and other data sources in order to develop a comprehensive picture of their customers. The same techniques can be applied in the public sector in order to profile any cross-section of the population.
2. Internet of Things (IoT) – Big data can analyze sensor data to assess process and performance in manufacturing, shipping or any other area where things need to be monitored. The same kind of sensor analytics techniques can be applied to public buildings, transportation and other public services.
3. Data warehouse optimization – Any large data repository can benefit from big data techniques to mine that data for specific insight, and the same is true with public data repositories such as the NIH genome database noted above.
4. Data security – Analytics can be highly effective at detecting a cyberattack or fraudulent transactions. The same techniques are being applied by the Department of Homeland Security and other agencies to protect government data.
Applying use cases for public service
Now let’s consider how some of these same use-case strategies can be applied as use cases for government agencies and nonprofits:
1. Entity analytics – Whether the entity is a person, location, thing or something else, entity analytics looks for connections. Those connections could be anything from voting trends to security issues. For example, you can predict if a specific district is likely to endorse a specific initiative using different data sets.
2. Sensors – IoT can play a big role in government big data. For example, data from traffic sensors can be mapped to time and other metrics to determine traffic patterns as part of planning to alleviate traffic congestion. Government and scientific agencies also are using satellite telemetry and weather sensors to track weather patterns and assess global warming.
3. Regulatory compliance – Big data can be useful for managing natural resources such as soil, forests and water. For example, environmental managers use big data for projects such as the EPA’s ECHO (which stands for “Enforcement and Compliance History Online”) to track if facilities meet environmental regulations.
4. Health services – Data from hospitals, accident reports, disease monitoring, social services and other sources can provide a comprehensive picture of community health trends. For example, a specific region may see more incidents of cancer or sickness due to unknown toxins, or big data can be used to track an epidemic or advise distribution of vaccines.
5. Law enforcement – Big data is proving valuable for law enforcement as well. Police departments across the country are assimilating arrest records, crime statistics and social media to identify hot spots that require additional coverage. The FBI and the Department of Homeland Security also use analytics to uncover crime and potential national security threats.
6. Tax fraud – Billions of dollars in uncollected taxes and fraudulent claims are being recovered using analytics. Big data can be used to detect fraudulent refunds and match tax information against billions of personal records.
7. Social services – Big data is having an impact on Social Security and child care. In Los Angeles County, for example, fraud for low-income child care is on the rise. Data mining has made it easier to identify suspicious cases, resulting in 408 fraud referrals for prosecution. It also has made it easier to identify families in need of social services.
The basic tools and techniques used for business can be applied to government and nonprofit analytics, which is why more solution providers and big data consultants are looking for opportunities in the public sector. Measuring IoT data traffic signals, for example, isn’t much different from measuring sensors in a manufacturing plant. The differences lie in understanding how to customize the use cases and assemble the right data sources to yield the desired insights.