Breaking Down Big Data — 3 Experts Weigh In

Hey there. I’m Emily Jarvis– the DorobekINSIDER producer — and welcome GovLoop Insights’ DorobekINSIDER.
Chris is out of the office this week on vacation. But we couldn’t leave you hanging. So I’ve compiled some of my favorite interviews on Big Data. It’s the latest buzzword to take over government. And it’s making a big splash in the White House’s new Digital Government Strategy. But how do you harness the power of big data and what are some of its biggest challenges? We’ll get insights from government leaders.

  • Zeroing in on the barriers to big data. Insights from a big data expert — Paul Wohlleben
  • Unlocking the myths surrounding Big Data with NISTs Peter Mell.
  • Untangling the open big data debate — Tim Davies.

But before we get to that, I want to take a second and tell you about the Paralyzed Veterans of America. I was on hand yesterday at their Kids Day Event out in Richmond. And let me tell you it was inspiring. Kids Day is an annual special event that is part of the National Veterans Wheelchair Games. Each year a day is set aside to introduce children with disabilities to adaptive sports. They had the opportunity to play basketball, softball, and work their way through an obstacle course – all with the help of veteran mentors who are participating as athletes in the National Veterans Wheelchair Games.

Find more photos like this on GovLoop – Social Network for Government


“Trends emerge and they get labeled. Provider flock to the new label, align themselves and say, ‘look we’ve always been doing this,'” says Paul Wohlleben the President of Wohlleben consulting and a former federal CIO.

But what really is Big Data? Wohlleben says for government, big data is, “huge quantities of quality and vetted government data. That data can then be used to influence decisions and improve both the efficiency and quality of government products and processes.”

Wohlleben told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that the big data fad won’t be going away anytime soon.

Two Big Ways the Government can use Big Data

  1. Improve efficiencies: use data to better understanding performance and results, data could help prevent fraud, and prevent loss
  2. Make Government less reactive more proactive: better tailor government benefits; improve the science that underlies regulations; reduce the cycle time of enforcement actions — all of these would improve the performance of government and help manage its cost.

“The most important factor in whether big data will be a success is the quality of the data,” said Wohlleben, “If the military is using big data sets to determine a drone attack that information better be accurate or there could be deadly repercussions.”

Biggest Big Data Barriers:

  • Timeliness: Some standards and investment will be required to ensure the right data for the specific need is being created and obtained. The data needs to be accessible to those who need it, which will require appropriate policy development. The data also needs to be of known quality and source, and the chain of custody needs to be reliable, requiring additional policy and process development across government.
  • Continuous IT Development: Innovative software that can process multistructured and multisourced data and perform complex, real-time analytics will be required. Significantly more capable data storage mechanisms and appliances, relying more on solid-state, in-memory storage instead of traditional disk storage, will be needed. Improved sensors and devices to accurately collect data will be required.
  • Big Data Workforce: big-data projects need a new cadre of professional staff who are proficient in statistics, mathematics and scientific methods. These staff members must ask the right questions and consume the results of analysis effectively. Such personnel needs will require the government to retrain its current staff and attract talented new graduates.
  • Improved Government Business Models: In-place structures and leadership tend to seek and protect the status quo; big data will have a revolutionary impact, with innovators and outside influences pushing the incumbents. As we have observed over time, technology tends to be ambivalent to organizational structures. Big data will provide yet another solid reason to rationalize the organization of government and to attempt to eliminate the significant duplication that exists.


There are a lot of myths and challenges surrounding big data. Peter Mell is a Computer Scientist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. He was the one that actually defined the cloud computing term. So we figured who better to help us pin down what exactly big data is.


Data comes in many different forms, and depending on the form of data, it can totally change its use. For example, realtime data has different applications than data not in realtime, same goes for big and small data. While speaking with Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER, Tim Davies, a PhD student in the Web Science Doctoral Training Cent…, brings awareness to the importance of properly classifying our data. Davies has played a critical role in defining many of the open-data terms.

First off, it’s important to have the correct terminology for your dataset. Buzzwords are commonplace, and they can really throw off the true meaning of a term that’s used to classify data. If data isn’t properly classified, its particular use may not be fully understood, which can lead to a poor analysis of that data. There needs to be consensus as to what constitutes big, raw, open, or realtime data. Marketers love these buzzwords – but let’s make sure to avoid letting using them improperly.
Tim Davies talks with Chris Dorobek – 1 by cdorobek

Realtime data, for one, is really contextual and if something is called realtime, but isn’t, it may be useless for the purpose it was intended to serve. For example, when trying to catch a train, if the data is 10 minutes late that means you missed your ride and the data was useless anyway. However, public records can be published a day or two later and still be considered relatively realtime because of the historically long and arduous process of disclosing public records.
Tim Davies talks with Chris Dorobek – 2 by cdorobek

To Listen to Tim Davies’s full interview you can catch the entire radio show at GovLoop Insights or you can subscribe to our iTunes channel.

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