Recently Federal Computer Week featured an article entitled: Why agencies are drowning in data. The article was based on a recent survey by Semantic Corporation on effective big data strategies. The survey found that that the main reasons for agencies feeling overwhelmed were data governance and data security. I think, however, they were asking the wrong questions.
The government is currently producing and making available huge amounts of data. I agree that this data needs to be kept secure and managed so it can be made available to the appropriate users. However, I think the bigger question is who is taking the time to look at the data and what are they doing with the information. Take acquisition data, for instance. There are volumes of data about what the government is purchasing, who in the government is making the purchases and what they are buying. Government analysts could be asking questions like:
- Are we getting the best price possible on specific commodities?
- Does one agency negotiate better prices than other agencies?
- Why don’t we all get those good prices?
- Which contract vehicles are most cost effective?
- Is lowest price always the best answer?
- Do we get more returns on commercial items that were purchased due to lower prices?
The list could go on and on. The problem is that no one is really looking at the data — truly analyzing it. Analysis of this type is very common in the private sector as businesses try to understand where they fit in a marketplace and how to make their supply chain run more efficiently. Government employees do not look at themselves as running a business. They are always looking for cheaper prices and more efficient business practices, but often do not have the marketing and data research skills that are necessary and becoming prevalent in the private sector.
I think the government should put equal emphasis on reviewing and using the big data they are collecting rather than just making sure it is safe and secure. They might be amazed at what they find.