What Does it Take to Excel With Big Data?

Ever feel like there is data everywhere – yet not an insight to be found? It’s a common challenge facing organizations today, especially as organizations are flooded with information. The good news is that we are just getting started with big data, and innovations will continue to accelerate as regulations take hold, infrastructures are built, education improves and more case studies begin to emerge.

For organizations who have not yet dived into big data, one challenge is that we are simply going to be creating even more data down the road. To reinforce this, I was surprised when I reviewed EMC statistics on data in 2020, the data projections are quite remarkable:

  • From 2005 to 2020, the digital universe will grow from 130 exabytes to 40,000 exabytes, or 40 trillion gigabytes

  • From now until 2020, the digital universe will double every two years.

  • The investment in spending on IT hardware, software, services, telecommunications and staff will grow by 40% between 2012 and 2020.

  • By 2020, as much as 33% of the digital universe will contain information that might be valuable if analyzed.

With those eye-popping statistics, I decided to go back and took a look at some data which GovLoop collected in our report, Transforming Your Agency With Big Data.

After reviewing, I thought it would be interesting to highlight the challenges the GovLoop community noted for implementing big data initiatives, and offer up some perspectives on how to overcome them. In a sample of 215 GovLoop members, they cited the following challenges:

  • 19 percent cited education

  • 18 percent cited acquiring infrastructure

  • 16 percent cited confidentiality and access control

  • 15 percent cited leadership

  • 13 percent cited data privacy

  • 13 percent cited cybersecurity

The challenges are typical challenges facing all agencies when adopting IT. Yet, big data presents unique challenges to government agencies – especially in terms of the storage, management and collection of data. So what are some practical steps to begin your big data initiative?

1. Build a Culture of Trust: Yes, this is easier said than done – but having an environment where people want to share data, work across organizational boundaries, and care about elevating the mission of the agency (and not just one department), is imperative to fully leverage the opportunity big data presents.

2. Allow for Risk, Embrace Failures: There’s a great Bob Dylan quote, “There’s no success like failure, and failure is no success at all.” Organizations need to take risks, and if projects do not turn out as intended, embrace the experience as a lesson learned and move forward with a renewed vision and enthusiasm for the project.

3. Leadership: Leadership is essential to all technology and IT programs. Leaders must chart a clear vision, work to create partnerships internally and externally, and set up teams for success. Without support and executive buy-in, big data projects will falter.

4. Define Your Own Meaning of Big Data: There’s a lot of different ways to define big data, and at each agency, defining big data will hold a different meaning. A good start to defining big data is thinking of it in these terms: How can we leverage data and infrastructures to develop new insights and make improved decisions, which we could not previously do. This could mean that you are leveraging petabytes, terabytes or exabytes, the key is that data is at the core of a transformation at your agency – regardless of size.

Big data is changing the way we work and in our private lives. It’s helped to provide improved situational awareness to police officers, and linked scientists around the globe to fight disease. There is so much promise behind big data initiatives. It’s my hope that you start your journey today to unlock the power of your data, and drive new insights and value for your organizations.

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EMC Corporation, a global IT leader, enables the federal government to transform its operations and deliver IT as a service. Fundamental to this transformation is cloud computing. Through innovative products and services, delivered in partnership with leading government contractors and federal systems integrators, EMC accelerates the journey to cloud computing, helping federal IT departments to store, manage, protect, and analyze their most valuable asset—information—in a more agile, trusted, and cost-efficient way. Additional information can be found at www.EMC.com/federal.

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Jaime Gracia

One of the biggest problems that I see with Big Data implementation across federal government is the lack of clearly defined goals of what to do with the data. We have all this data; we collect all this data, then what?

However, this list includes all subcategories of themselves. Without effective leadership (#3), using big data to improve government is not possible. Further, all the other items on the list flow down from leadership. Regarding the Govloop survey, the percent that list leadership as a challenge is remarkably low, as the other issues stem from strong leadership up to the challenge to solve the other issues listed.

Sadly, I think effective leadership is in short supply in the federal space, simply because the lack of education and innovative skills needed to fully exploit the potential of big data to revolutionize the way federal government operates.

It is also a challenge to fully execute any disruptive processes or methodologies, as the institutionalized culture of risk aversion and fear has been built up over decades with those that want to keep the status quo, or exert undue pressure on the status quo systems to drive profits or fiefdoms for political power struggles and bureaucracy for bureaucracy’s sake.

I believe the change has to come at the project and program level, and the creative program managers acting as change agents to demonstrate the potential of real innovative thinking to proof-of-concept engagements. These projects also do to have to be multi-million dollar boondoggles either, as many effective projects can be done at modest investments, with tremendous return.

However, these projects are not good for empire building. So, we can expect more healthcare.gov debacles in our future.

Pat Fiorenza

Jaime – thanks so much for your comments. Lots of interesting insights – maybe the low leadership problems are indicative that leadership not seen as a priority to advance big data — agencies are looking at the challenges solely as a technology and not human capital problem. As I was writing I kept on cutting back to be concise, because I was realizing my 4 categories could each be built out into either their own post, or multiple subcategories in each.

There’s so much opportunity related to big data for government to advance, I really hope we start seeing more projects and pilot programs coming out, and more sharing or best practices/resources.