Local Governments: Ready for Big Data?

From: Forbes

Gil Press, Contributor

News yesterday from the U.S. Census Bureau that there are 89,004 local governments in the United States today. All ready for transformation by big data?

Last year, Mckinsey estimated that the application of big data in the public sector in Europe “could save more than €100 billion ($149 billion) in operational efficiency improvements alone… not including using big data to reduce fraud and errors and boost the collection of tax revenues.” Big data could potentially reduce the costs of administrative activities by 15 to 20 percent, said Mckinsey, and “can play a similar role in other countries and regions.”

Alistair Croll singled out recently the public sector or what he called “civil engineering” as one of three spaces to watch for a big data impact. Said Croll: “I think municipal data is one of the big three for several reasons: it’s a good tie breaker for partisanship, we have new interfaces everyone can understand, and we finally have a mostly-connected citizenry.”

Not so fast says a new report from National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).  It warns that “to prevent big data from becoming a ‘big quest’ there must be rational, defensible reasons for pursuing it, and there must be a discipline for governing and managing the associated investment of people, finances, and technology.” And it points to the current financial constraints of local governments: “Investment in big data skills and technology competes with other investment pressures facing state CIOs. In general, states are still working on many other high priorities such as legacy modernization, consolidation and shared services, cloud computing, mobile services, and cyber security as presented in NASCIO’s 2012 Top Ten Priorities. Investment in big data is competing for attention and resources in this larger portfolio and requires an economic business case just as any other investment. That business case must start with a purpose, the rationale, and the need for investing now. It may still be too early for significant investment.”

For the federal level, Mark Weber issued a similar reality check: “As is the case with most emerging technologies, rhetoric often outpaces adoption. A recent survey of more than 150 federal IT professionals conducted by Meritalk on behalf of NetApp highlights enthusiasm within the federal government to leverage big data to support government mission outcomes, but finds that most agencies lack the storage, power and personnel to fully benefit from the efficiencies and improved decision making the technology can deliver. ‘The Big Data Gap’ survey reveals that just 60 percent of IT professionals say 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 a whopping 96 percent of those surveyed expect their agency’s stored data to grow in the next two years by an average of 64%.”

There are of course some initial success stories, for example the use of big data to assist law enforcement agencies in fighting crime (see here and here).  But before we see the promised potential realized, a solid IT foundation has to be built and the specific questions big data could answer or the optimal government sector activities it can improve must be defined.


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