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August 28, 2013

Big Government, Big Data, Big Savings?

Alex Woodie

The Federal Government doesn’t do anything small. After all, just take a look at the $3.5 trillion federal budget, which amounted to 21 percent of the country’s overall economy last year. But by taking measures to utilize and benefit from “big data,” the Federal Government could save as much as $500 billion annually, according to a recent survey.    

Nearly 25 percent of Federal IT managers have already implemented at least one big data initiative, according to the study, titled “Smarter Uncle Sam: The Big Data Forecast,” which was conducted by MeriTalk on behalf of EMC and included the responses of 150 Federal IT managers across the Department of Defense and civilian agencies.

But the bulk of big data’s big dividends have yet to be realized. Over the next five years, federal IT executives say they will spend 16 percent of their budgets, or about $5 billion, executing their big data plans. What’s more, nearly two-thirds of respondents to the MeriTalk survey say it will take longer than three years for their agencies to “successfully leverage” the types of technologies that are generally classified under the “big data” category.

Today, those examples of “success” include things such as improving processes and efficiency, enhancing security, and predicting trends. More specifically, federal IT manager see big data playing a big role in executing military, intelligence, and surveillance millions, according to the survey. Combating fraud and waste is another area where big data can make a big difference, followed by managing the transportation infrastructure.

The types of big data projects undertaken by federal agencies is likely to change, considering that only 31 percent of survey respondents said their agency has a “sufficient” strategy for big data. And one of the areas that needs work the most is data tagging.

According to the MeriTalk study, only 26 percent of US Government data is tagged, and only 23 percent is analyzed. Ideally, 46 percent of the data would be tagged, and 45 percent of it would be analyzed, the study says.

Data sets are getting bigger all the time, but in the future, there’s going to be a lot more data available to everyone, thanks in part to the US Government’s Open Data Policy. NASA is one of the government agencies working to share its treasure-trove of data, which is done through the website.

During a webinar held in conjunction with the release of the study, NASA chief technology officer Dr. Sasi Pillay encouraged scientists to share data through that website. “We’re working on making it available in digital formats,” she said, according to an InformationWeek story. “It takes time to catch up with the data. There’s a long lag. Hopefully we’ll improve the use of that data for more scientific discoveries.”

Unfortunately, sequestration could potentially delay or derail the big data plans of government agencies. According to the study, 41 percent of federal IT executives say their budgets have been cut by more than 10 percent.

Related items:

NSA to Build Data Analytics Lab at North Carolina State 

Census Bureau Ponder Role of Outside Data Sources 

The Intersection of Public Policy and Big Data