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DorobekINSIDER Live: More Than Just Big Data, Big Careers

A special edition of GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER was held Wednesday. We’re LIVE! We host these events once each month this year. The idea is simple: get smart people together and share ideas — because we believe that the real power of information comes when it is shared.

There’s so much talk about big data these days. Today on GovLoop’s DorobekINSIDER LIVE, we talked to some people at the front lines of big data: the chief data officers. These are the people who are really making big data an effective tool for government.

From Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game to Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail — but Some Don’t, there is a growing consensus that we are in the era of big data. If you look at CareerCast’s list of top jobs, many of them have to do with analyzing data.

There are few organizations that have more or bigger data than government, that’s why today we have brought together some of the best and brightest government big data thinkers.


DorobekINSIDER’s Panel of Experts:

  • Jeanne Holm, the evangelist for Data.gov
  • Dianna Anderson, the chief data officer for the state of Colorado
  • Dr. Peter Aiken, author of The Case for the Chief Data Officer-Recasting the C-Suite to Leverage Your Most Valuable Asset. He is also the Founding Director and Owner at Data Blueprint.
  • Greg Elin, served as the first chief data officer for the Federal Communications Commission. Today, he is CEO of GitMachines

One of the biggest challenges in talking about big data is figuring out if big data is a fad or a permanent fixture. It is hard to invest time and resources in a fad, but Aiken believes two things have created the breeding ground for government big data.

“Now more machines are making data than humans. This is part of the evolution of the internet of thing, but now devices are outproducing data at an incredible rate. Added to that, the cost of technology has plummeted. Flash memory drives are not affordable, this means that agencies are able to put processing in the middle of data and eat it, just like Pac Man. This saves time and money.”

Elin agreed: “There are more people and more connections and more things than ever before. There is simply so much more data.”

But just because data is not fad doesn’t mean everyone understands its power. “We need to get data out of the governments hands and into the public. The government doesn’t know what data sets people will find useful. The trick is to open up the data,” said Holm. “In order to get buy-in you have to connect the data back to the mission and to how you are helping citizens. Can big data help the Department of Veterans Affairs find jobs for vets? The answer is yes. That is how you show why big data is powerful.”

Knowing the power of big data and actually optimizing it at your agency are two very different things. “At Data.gov we made sure each agency was responsible for their own data, by empowering the agencies we were able to get them more buy-in.”

Anderson agreed: “In Colorado we hosted a Go Code App Challenge that defined five business cases for open data. It is amazing what they came up with in a weekend. Our ultimate goal is to see companies create a business out of state data.”

So if you understand the power of data and how to optimize it, the next question is how long do you hold on to your data.

“I would be a data hoarder if I could,” said Aiken. “People think of the data lifecycle as acquire, store and use, but you also have to tack on structures as well. You never know what data sets people are going to find the most fascinating. So if I had my way, I would keep them all.”

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