Why Federal Agencies Should Accelerate Adoption of Big Data Analytics? To Better Serve Citizens!

Cindy Walker

Cindy Walker, Salient CRGT

Cindy Walker, innovator who helps federal agencies exploit data to continually improve performance, reduce risks, and increase efficiencies, is a Vice President at Salient CRGT’s Data Analytics Innovation Center in Fairfax, Virginia.

The time is now for all federal departments and agencies to enthusiastically embrace big data and advanced analytics without hesitation. Big data analytics presents opportunities and agencies should move forward with a sense of urgency to launch pilot projects across their enterprises to guide the adoption of effective big data analytics capabilities to serve citizens better, thereby improving ROI.

In May of 2014 the Executive Office of the President published the results of a study to examine how big data will transform the way we live and work and alter the relationships between government, citizens, businesses, and consumers. This report, entitled “Big Data: Seizing Opportunities, Preserving Values,” reviewed “how the public and private sectors can maximize the benefits of big data while minimizing its risks.” The report notes, “There is virtually no part of government that does not stand to serve citizens better” through the use of big data and advanced analytics. And it revealed that it is the federal departments and agencies that have historically not made wide use of advanced data analytics that stand to benefit the most from harnessing big data to serve citizens better.

Yet today, over 18 months since the report was published, many of those same departments and agencies seem to be hesitating to move forward with aggressive strategies to mature their big data and advanced analytics capabilities. While there is a high level of interest and uptick in budgets targeted toward analytics initiatives, there also seems to be a general lack of urgency and very few agency-wide strategies in place that use big data analytics to make significant positive impacts to improve their services.

There has never been a better time for federal departments and agencies to tap into the potential of big data and advanced analytics and move with urgency and focus to launch enterprise-wide adoption strategies. Why?

• Federal departments and agencies have accumulated a goldmine of high value data that can be mined immediately to gain valuable insights and inform decisions for effective actions, and enhance services to citizens. Further, the federal government now has a Chief Data Scientist who is providing leadership in this area.

• Big data analytics technologies are maturing rapidly and are readily accessible through affordable, cloud-based service offerings. The self-service capabilities included in many of these technologies effectively democratize data analytics so that end users and business analysts can be effective data analysts, reducing the need for armies of expensive data scientists.

• The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a seven-volume set of documents in the Big Data Interoperability Framework to stimulate collaboration among industry professionals to accelerate the secure and effective adoption of big data techniques and technology.

• Universal data challenges that have plagued federal agencies for decades, such as information sharing and information silos, can be overcome with big data analytics solutions. Sometimes called “cylinders of excellence”, these data silos can limit data sharing and make it difficult for decision makers to see the big picture across the enterprise necessary for fully informed decisions. Big data and advanced analytics capabilities enable integrated views and analysis of disparate data without requiring the heavy lift of traditional methods of physical data integration.

• ‘Proof of the Possible’ strategies offer opportunities for government collaboration with industry and significantly lower big data analytics adoption risks. These strategies are, in effect, try-before-you-buy pilot projects to prove that proposed analytics solutions can deliver as expected and to guide more precise requirements for big data analytics procurements. The Department of the Navy is setting a great example for other federal departments and agencies to follow. The Navy recognizes that big data analytics is a vital capability to support their mission and is moving forward with a big data analytics strategy for the Manpower, Personnel, Training, and Education (MPT&E) community. Supported by the Navy’s Innovation Cell (IC), recognizing “The speed of innovation is a technical advantage for the Navy’s IT enterprise,” the Navy issued an “Enterprise Challenge: Information as an Asset – Data Analytics Inside the DON.” This initiative is engaging industry innovations to demonstrate a ‘proof of the possible’ in a Navy Sandbox to address the big data analytics needs of the Navy’s MPT&E community that will guide requirements for their enterprise-wide strategy going forward. This proof will help the Navy leverage predictive analytics to develop relationship models, which will help inform leadership on taking proactive actions. One example is decision-making for retention and recruitment. Currently these decisions can be based on predictions regarding the force, while the Navy would like to add the ability to determine when and where to apply resources to reduce stress within at-risk personnel and their families.

Certainly, there are notable federal government big data analytics success stories. National security agencies and departments and those with science and technology missions, including the Centers for Medicaid and Medicare, NOAA, and NASA, have made the most significant progress to date embracing advanced analytics and big data technologies and strategies.

By laying the foundation for effective use of big data analytics, federal government and agencies can unlock value and discover new services and capabilities to make better decisions more quickly and enhance their services to citizens. It is now time for all federal departments and agencies to follow suit and take action.

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