May 31 2013

5 Tips for Federal Agencies to Create a Successful Big Data Strategy

The government can improve services and lower costs if they approach Big Data strategically.

With an understanding of what Big Data means and how it can benefit government, agencies can begin to think differently about this important asset — because Big Data is, indeed, an asset and not just an IT challenge. In its 2012 study, Demystifying Big Data, the TechAmerica Foundation’s Big Data Commission wrote:

Government agencies should think about Big Data not as an IT solution to solve reporting and analytical information challenges but rather as a strategic asset that can be used to achieve better mission outcomes. …treating it like any other asset — one that is valued and secured. Ultimately, agencies should strive to address the following two questions: “How will the business of government change to leverage Big Data?” and “How will legacy business models and systems be disrupted?”

In 2010, the Federal Communications Commission appointed chief data officers in each of its offices and bureaus to help the FCC better use and share data, making it the first agency to do so. Others have suggested installing CDOs throughout government. But the title is less important than the job, whether it’s the CIO who handles Big Data issues or some other person in a position to enforce Big Data policy and governance.

Because the amount of data collected will continue to grow (and because the potential benefits of analyzing that data are huge), it’s important for government agencies to establish a Big Data strategy. But they shouldn’t rush into it. There are several steps to be taken first to determine a strategy.

1. Assess the current environment

Organizations need to know what data they already collect, how they collect it and where it resides. They also need to know what condition the data is in so they know how much it must be processed to be useful.

2. Identify business requirements

Without knowing why they want to exploit Big Data, agencies may find it difficult (and wasteful) to pursue a strategy. Studying how other agencies have leveraged Big Data is a good way of understanding the possibilities.

3. Plan to start small

Many agencies already have the building blocks of a strategy in place. The goal should be to grow a Big Data solution out of an existing enterprise architecture, rather than to build a whole new system.

4. Let requirements dictate actions

To start, agencies should map their requirements to the appropriate Big Data solution. If they’re dealing with large amounts of data (volume), their first Big Data deployment may be a data warehouse.

If the agency needs to analyze data very quickly (velocity), it may start with real-time analytics, which requires more processing power than storage capacity. If it has identified a need to analyze unstructured data (variety), the agency may want to evaluate solutions such as the open-source Hadoop framework.

5. Identify technical requirements

With an understanding of their existing IT environment and how they’d like to begin using Big Data, government groups can determine where additional infrastructure is needed, if anywhere. This would also be the time to evaluate a cloud-based solution, which would allow them to acquire computing and storage capacity in a pay-as-you-go model without significant upfront investment.

To learn more about Big Data, download our free white paper Proactive Planning for Big Data.