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Big Data – What’s The Big Deal?

Data can be hard to get excited about if it’s just sitting on a website, in a graph, or on a worksheet. What’s the big fuss? In today’s GovLoop training ‘Get In The Data Game’, the closing keynote shared an example of how to actually use that big data to help the government do its job better.

Anthony Fung, Deputy Secretary of Technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia, enlightened the audience on some of the major big data challenges and the exciting future of big data in the Commonwealth.

Virginia’s goal for big data is “Empower all Virginia’s state agencies to make more informed, data-driven decisions to achieve mission goals through the growth of people, big data/enterprise technology, and advanced analytic methodologies across the Commonwealth.” However, there are certain barriers that make this environment difficult for open data and its full implementation.

First of all, there’s some hesitation and apprehension about fully realizing the potential of big data analytics due to security concerns, worries about imperfect data, budget and resource constraints, legal restrictions, and management turnover. According to Fung, the answer is to make data widely acceptable – to drastically change the organizational culture within the state government so that everyone is fully behind big data.

Fung and the Commonwealth have had success encouraging innovation with big data by hosting in-person events on the topic. Virginia’s big data events, such as a “Hackathon” and an analytics summit, have done great jobs of bringing together big data minds and getting people out of the office and communicating across sectors about big data implementation.

The Commonwealth has a public website portal for its open data – data.virginia.gov. However, according to Fung, the big deal with big data is what’s actually being done with these public repositories of big data. To get people to support the push for big data, you have to demonstrate how it’s going to help them do their jobs better, and how it’s going to help society at large.

Thankfully, big data analysis often has quantifiable return on investment measures built in. To build a culture that’s accepting of open, big data, it’s been important for Fung to share with other government leaders what the actual results and further potentials are.

Big data for big data’s sake, at the end of the day, isn’t so important, Fung stressed – all the information has to actually go somewhere and be applied and evaluated with analytics. So, in his experience, where has the Commonwealth’s big data gone?

One great implementation of big data for Virginia was the hugely successful Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS). This program collects information on individuals as they go through the education system and join the workforce. It’s all done securely, so that everyone’s privacy and identity remains intact. It allows the Virginia government to analyze and improve their education system and workforce development.

According to Fung, this is a great example of big data because it is results oriented and focused upon improvement. Rather than purely collecting data that sits in a public repository, this program is utilized towards positive change that will make citizen lives better. Programs such as these can also hugely improve state employees’ attitudes towards to processes and systems surrounding big data.

So, Fung’s speech is a call to action for all government professionals – get in the data game, and do things with your big data! Fortunately, attendees left the conference with Fung’s example fresh in their mind, and a 60-day action plan to put big data to good use, starting right when they return to their desks.

See more coverage of our big data event at this link.

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