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Federal Big Data Summit 2015: First-Hand Report

Big Data Applications in Government Fueled by Technology and Collaboration

Last week we had the opportunity to attend the Federal Big Data Summit in Washington, DC. Held by the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center (ATARC), the Summit was an educational IT symposium led by and for members of the federal government and academia. Having worked with government agencies to solve search and data analytics challenges, it was exciting for us to hear from first-hand accounts about the large-scale impact big data is making in this space.

 

What Does Big Data Do for Government Agencies Beyond the Buzzword? Ask the CDOs.

Just imagine the increasing amount of structured and unstructured data that can be collected for analysis, whether it is from agencies’ databases, social media, public forums, government websites, or news sites (think petabytes or even zettabytes as the IDC predicted). As one of the panelists noted, even if we don’t talk about the “veracity” and “velocity” parts of big data, “variety” and “volume” alone already pose great challenges for Chief Data Officers (CDOs) and their teams. 

But big data is not new to government agencies – for example, consider the petabytes of data in the National Archives or weather data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). What’s “new” is much of that data is being leveraged more than ever before. According to the panelists, central data repositories, distributed computing (like Hadoop), search engines, and visualization technologies have enabled better data management and analytics for their public services planning. 

Similarly, we’ve seen the combination of some of these technologies work well for our government customers like theLibrary of CongressUS Government Publishing Office, and the US National Archives and Records Administration

 

Data Transparency and Cross-Agency Collaboration

The path to finding successful big data applications in government can be different for each agency as organizational structures, cultures, and responsibilities are varied. But the common ground agreed to by the panelists is that cross-agency data transparency, combined with proper data governance, will be key to innovation for future public services. 

The analytics.usa.gov website is a hallmark example of this multi-agency collaboration effort, providing a window into how the public is interacting with government data online.

analytics.usa.gov screenshot

 

Uncovering Impactful Big Data Use Cases for Government Missions

1. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS): Open Data Initiative

The HHS is publishing data pooled from multiple agencies for research and public education on various aspects of healthcare. Spend 15 minutes on HealthData.gov or the California Health and Services Department's Open Data Portal - two interactive portals to search, browse, and visualize data, and you may be fascinated by what you discover. 

HHS Open Data portal

 

2. The Office of Inspector General: Fraud Detection with Big Data

A part of the HHS, the Office of Inspector General is discovering new use cases for big data and predictive analytics to reduce waste, fraud, and abuse. By identifying “questionable” billing worth $2.3 billion at 1,400 pharmacies, the largest action ever against healthcare fraud, the agency has set out a new path for many other agencies to fight the enduring fraud detection battle. Among these success stories was one on which we had the opportunity to collaborate

 

3. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB): Influencing FICO Scoring Algorithms

A part of its effort to improve consumer financial health, the Bureau uses text and log analytics to study consumer behavioral patterns via the ways they interact with CFPB’s website, social media, and forums. A remarkable achievement? The agency was able to influence FICO to change its credit score algorithms, reducing the impact of medical debt in scoring and lifting low credit score burden for many consumers.

 

Virtualization, Visualization, and Vision of Big Data

By emphazing the growth of innovative big data applications in government, this year’s Summit has reaffirmed the integrated future of big data in public services.

Technologies will continue to be a powerful supporter of this movement. Cloud storages like Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services (AWS) and open source technologies like Hadoop have brought greater flexibility and cost reduction. Search engines and data visualization platforms have enabled easier, quicker discovery and analytics. 

Also, the collaboration between agencies and CDOs will continue to be crucial in data governance, data integration and management, and nurturing talents for architecting future systems. 

-- Mai 

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