May 2012

Public sector could gain from big data analytics


The future of business intelligence (BI) could be closely tied to the public sector. According to a recent MeriTalk survey, the amount of data held by U.S. government agencies is swelling rapidly. A significant portion of this data is unstructured, meaning that it can only be turned into actionable information by specially-designed BI programs focused on big data analytics. The survey also revealed that the government has a long way to go to prepare its users for the coming data revolution.

Unstructured data grows

The recent MeriTalk survey found that data is growing and becoming less structured. Respondents consisted of public sector IT decision makers, 96 percent of whom predict the amount of data held by their agencies will rise over the past two years. The average amount of data growth expected was 64 percent. The information is not ready-sorted, with roughly one third consisting of unstructured data. Such data can include anything that defies easy tabulation, and is on the rise. Among survey respondents, 64 percent have seen unstructured information rise in the past two years.

More knowledge needed

Dealing with large amounts of unsorted data requires a new skill set. According to the survey, it is not yet in place. MeriTalk found 42 percent of defense workers and 60 percent in civilian-facing agencies have just begun to learn about big data. The process of educating these employees in the technology's nuances could be a large difference-maker for federal agencies, inundated as they are with data.

"Government has a gold mine of data at its fingertips," said Mark Weber of the survey's software company sponsor. "The key is turning that data into high-quality information that can increase efficiencies and inform decisions. Agencies need to look at big data solutions that can help them efficiently process, analyze, manage, and access data, enabling them to more effectively execute their missions."

Health success

According to the Vancouver Sun, there is an example that U.S. agencies can follow north of the border. The source stated that British Columbia has used electronic health records for a decade, meaning that healthcare providers in the area can undertake ambitious big data analytics projects. While the programs sometimes stir up public privacy worries, they are rendered safe by scrubbing identifying data from all records used for research purposes. The Sun stated that researchers hope to track large-scale trends such as the side effects of medications through big data.

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