Imagine a democracy built upon big data analytics

Our ongoing look at analytics in the public sector continues with a look beyond privacy concerns to the real value governments could derive from unstructured information

Share this article:

Big data has big implications for government. In the private sector, big data can be mined and analyzed to gain insight into customers, business decisions and industry trends. In the public sector, where the citizen is the “customer,” it can help in myriad ways that are only now being explored, from reducing crime to predicting epidemics.

There are, of course, a number of technical challenges: big data encompasses the gamut of technology, from servers to storage, networking, software and services (and let’s not forget some big data apps could even be hosted in the cloud). Perhaps a bigger challenge will be a cultural shift that would see governments operate in a much different way than they have in the past (not to mention privacy concerns).

Related: When does big data become too Big Brother?

But is there an appetite in government, despite the challenges ahead? A recent Gartner study, “User Survey Analysis: IT Spending Priorities in Government Worldwide 2013,” found that while big data is not yet a high priority among governments, it is gaining momentum — particularly as a focal point for government modernization.

We’re seeing governments use big data to tackle fraud and wasteful spending — and that’s definitely a start. The challenge, according to Gartner, is that governments must assess how to manage, leverage and store big data, and address challenges associating with merging large amounts of data onto a single platform.

And IDC Government Insight’s “Top 10 Predictions” says that tactical deployments of big data solutions will grow by more than 30 per cent year over year, and will “accelerate broader pervasive analytics deployment, laying the foundation for ‘smart government.’”

Governments tend to have more data — and more complex data — than private sector organizations. They have tons of data sitting around in databases, as well as in unified communications systems and contact centres, and this can be mined to deliver better citizen experiences.

Big data tools work with both structured and unstructured data, and it’s important that governments consider these unstructured sources — much of it coming from a variety of multimedia communications — as part of their big data strategy.

By many estimates, much of the data out there (up to 80 per cent) is unstructured. While governments have historical sources of data in the form of documents and forms, they’re also accumulating data from email, call centre notes, video, mobile phones, social media, satellite images, Web site content and many other unstructured sources. As unified communications becomes more widely adopted in the public sector, the volume, variety and velocity of these data sources will all increase.

Analyzing both structured and unstructured data can help governments — typically not known for lightning-speed decision-making — react faster to situations. And being able to deliver across media and networks can help them understand national sentiment, as well as local, regional and global trends.

This may sound like a lofty goal, without any “real” return on investment, but big data offers opportunities for determining more effective public policy and making better decisions on where taxpayer dollars should be spent.

The reality is, however, that data is continuing to accumulate. Without an effective strategy, data will become a burden, rather than a means to smarter government. So governments can look at big data as a big pain, or they can see it as an opportunity to do some really innovative things that will make government more effective and ultimately more meaningful to the citizens they serve.

Learn more by downloading the white paper, ‘Getting a handle on big data doesn’t have to be a big headache,’ from Allstream. 

Image courtesy of renjith krishnan at

Share this article:
Comments are closed.