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Public Sector Big Data: Five Ways Big Data Must Evolve in 2013

2012 will go down as a “Big” year for Big Data in the public sector

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Editor’s note: This guest post provides context on mission focused data analytics in the federal space by one of the leaders of the federal big data movement, Ray Muslimani. -bg

2012 will go down as a “Big” year for Big Data in the public sector. Rhetoric and hype has been followed by tangible action on the part of both government and industry. The $200 million Big Data initiative unveiled by the White House in March 2012 was an injection of R&D and credibility towards efforts to develop tools and technologies to help solve the nation’s most pressing challenges.

On the industry side, the recently issued TechAmerica report, “Demystifying Big Data,” provides agencies with a roadmap for using Big Data to better serve citizens. It also offers a set of policy recommendations and practical steps agencies can take to get started with Big Data initiatives.

For all of the enthusiasm around Big Data this year, every indication is that 2013 will be the year when Big Data transforms the business of government. Below are 5 steps that need to be taken in order for Big Data to evolve in 2013 and deliver on its promise.

Demystify Big Data
Government agencies warmed to the potential of Big Data throughout 2012, but more education is required to help decision makers wade through their options and how further investments can be justified. Removing the ambiguitiessurrounding Big Data requires an emphasis in 2013 on education from both industry and government.

The TechAmerica Big Data report is a good example of how industry can play an active role in guiding agencies through Big Data initiatives. It also underscores that vendors can’t generate more Big Data RFPs through marketing slicks and sales tactics alone. This approach will not demystify Big Data – it will simply seed further doubt if providers of Big Data tools and solutions focus only on poking holes in competitor alternatives.

Industry and government should follow proven templates for education in 2013. For example, agencies can arrange “Big Data Days” in a similar format as Industry Tech Days occur today. Big Data industry days can help IT providers gain better insight into how each Agency plans to approach their Big Data challenges in 2013 and offer these agencies an opportunity to see a wide range of Big Data services.

The Big Data education process must also extend to contracting officers. Agencies need guidance on how RFPs can be constructed to address a service-based model.

Consumerize Big Data
While those within the public sector with the proper training and skills to analyze data have benefited from advanced Big Data tools, it has been far more difficult for everyday business users and decision makers to access the data in a useful way. Sluggish data query responses, data quality issues, and a clunky user experience is undermining the benefits Big Data Analytics can deliver and requiring users to be de facto “data scientists” to make sense of it all.

Supporting this challenge is a 2012 MeriTalk survey, “The Big Data Gap,” that finds just 60 percent of IT professionals indicate their agency is analyzing the data it collects and a modest 40 percent are using data to make strategic decisions. All of this despite the fact that 96 percent of those surveyed expects their agency’s stored data to grow in the next two years by an average of 64 percent.  The gap here suggests a struggle for non “data scientists” to convert data into business decisions. 

What if any government user could ask a question in natural language and receive the answer in a relevant visualization?  For Big Data to evolve in 2013 we must consumerize the user experience by removing spreadsheets and reports, and place the power of analytics in the hands of users of any level without analytics expertise.

Mobilize Big Data
IDC Government Insights predicts that in 2013, 35 percent of new Federal and state applications will be mobile. At the same time, 65 percent of Federal IT executives expect mobile device use to increase by 20 percent in 2013, according to The 2012-2013 Telework/Mobile IT Almanac.

Part of consumerizing Big Data means building it for any device so that users do not need to be tethered to their desktops to analyze data. Agency decision makers must be empowered to easily view and analyze data on tablets and smartphones, while the increase of teleworking in the public sector requires Big Data to be accessible from anywhere, at any time, and on any device.

There is promising innovation at work by both established Federal IT providers and upstarts in taking a mobile-first path to Big Data, rather than the traditional approach of building BI dashboards for the desktop. The degree to which 2013 sees a shift in Big Data from the desktop to tablets and smartphones will depend on how forcefully solutions providers employ a mobile-first approach to Big Data.

Act on Big Data
A tremendous amount of “thought” energy went into Big Data in 2012. For Big Data to evolve in a meaningful way in 2013, initiatives and studies must generate more action in the form of Big Data RFIs and RFPs.

Within the tight budget climate, agencies will not act on Big Data if vendor proposals require massive investments in IT infrastructure and staffing. There must be a shift –to the extent possible – of the financial and resource burden from agency to vendor. For example, some vendors have developed “Big Data Clouds” that allow agencies to leverage a secure, scalable framework for storing and managing data, along with a toolset for performing consumer-grade search and analysis on that data.

Open Big Data
Adoption of Big Data solutions has been accelerated by open source tools such as Hadoop, MapReduce, Hive, and HBase. While some agencies will find it tempting to withdraw to the comfort of proprietary Big Data tools that they can control in closed systems, that path undermines the value Big Data can ultimately deliver.

One could argue that as open source goes in 2013, Big Data goes as well. If open source platforms and tools continue to address agency demands for security, scalability, and flexibility, benefits within from Big Data within and across agencies will increase exponentially. There are hundreds of thousands of viable open source technologies on the market today. Not all are suitable for agency requirements, but as agencies update and expand their uses of data, these tools offer limitless opportunities to innovate. Additionally, opting for open source instead of proprietary vendor solutions prevents an agency from being locked into a single vendor’s tool that it may at some point outgrow or find ill suited for their needs.

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More Stories By Bob Gourley

Bob Gourley, former CTO of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), is Founder and CTO of Crucial Point LLC, a technology research and advisory firm providing fact based technology reviews in support of venture capital, private equity and emerging technology firms. He has extensive industry experience in intelligence and security and was awarded an intelligence community meritorious achievement award by AFCEA in 2008, and has also been recognized as an Infoworld Top 25 CTO and as one of the most fascinating communicators in Government IT by GovFresh.