The government sector continues to consume big data at an increased pace. In 2013 the White House's Big Data Initiative invested $200 million in big data projects across six federal agencies. However, it’s clear that government IT managers are struggling to adopt big data applications.
According to a survey by the Government Business Council, only 18 percent of federal managers felt they had proficiency with large data sets; 45 percent believe their agencies aren’t yet ready to embrace big data; and only 37 percent believe their workforce could work with big data applications today. In terms of big data challenges, 38 percent cited analyzing unstructured data as their biggest problem; 31 percent cited cleaning data; and 29 percent said analyzing streaming data sources was their biggest challenge. Clearly there is big opportunity for big data applications in government.
The Big Promise of Big Data
The same survey also promised that big data will transform federal operations. Those federal managers surveyed cited specific areas where big data applications would be particularly valuable in future:
- Performance tracking and goal setting – 55%
- Budgeting – 44%
- Enhancing operational efficiency – 44%
- Forecasting – 40%
- Overall cost savings – 47%
- Risk management – 38%
- Cybersecurity and network monitoring – 26%
- Fraud detection – 21%
Putting Big Data to Work in Government
Big data applications allow federal, state, and local government agencies to perform “what if” scenarios to determine the effectiveness of policies. For example, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) found they made $64.8 billion in improper payments in 2012. By exploiting big data as part of Open Government Plan 2.0, HHS plans to apply big data to analyze expenditures, services, and cost of care to prevent future errors.
There are many places where big data can prove valuable, but there are only a handful of areas where big data applications deliver the biggest returns:
1. Threat prevention
Keeping an eye on threats becomes more complex as the variety, velocity, and volume of data to be analyzed expands. To predict and prevent global and domestic threats, whether it is from terrorism, disease, or climate change, government agencies need to assimilate more data from multiple sources and use analytics to convert big data into insight.
In 2012, federal agencies were required to outline specific plans using big data applications to analyze hundreds of thousands of different data sets. The objective was to define new safety and threat prevention measures spanning air travel safety, auto safety, air pollution, workplace safety, nutrition, obesity, drug safety, employment, health care, and other areas, identifying concerns before they became real problems.
2. Crime prevention and detection
Homeland Security and national agencies as well as local police departments are finding new ways to fight crime using big data.
For example, in May 2012 the Medicare Fraud Strike Force used big data applications to uncover $452 million in false Medicare billings. Big data analytics revealed that from 3 to 10 percent of the nation’s Medicare billings were fraudulent.
Big data also has been valuable in uncovering tax fraud. Using big data applications, companies like IBM can assimilate structured and unstructured data to identify new deception tactics and ways that criminals default on taxes using false identities and other tactics.
3. Improving government services
Government agencies use big data to manage services like transportation and emergency management. Using real-time monitoring, for example, officials can anticipate disruptions to transportation or transit.
In the case of a disaster, such as a tornado or earthquake, big data can funnel and analyze incoming calls through 911 and 311 emergency lines to aid first responders. Using big data applications to assimilate and analyze data from emergency calls, text messages, and social media, responders can more effectively triage an emergency and determine where aid is needed most.
4. Improved efficiency and waste reduction
Finding new ways to streamline government processes, reduce budgets, and promote compliance can often justify the cost of a big data project.
For example, health and human service agencies are under ongoing pressure to reduce operating costs, reduce the number of claims, and shorten time to settlement while serving those who are eligible receive benefits. Big data applications can apply analytics to provide real-time information to improve the claims process and reduce costs.
What big data applications really offer government agencies is a way to make better decisions faster. Big data eliminates a lot of guesswork by presenting a clear path to a decision. It also democratizes decision-making, providing empirical analysis that can be shared with constituents, so big data analysis ultimately becomes part of the government’s service to the public.
Are there niche applications for big data that you are targeting for your government sales? Where do you see the growth area for big data in the government sector?