May 09 2013

Governments Aren’t Ready to Tap Big Data

Agencies recognize the benefits, but face obstacles in infrastructure and staffing.

Although states and localities see the potential of Big Data for boosting efficiency and improving decision making, few are in a position to capitalize on it yet, according to the findings of a study from MeriTalk.

In a survey underwritten by NetApp, government IT community MeriTalk polled 150 state and local IT professionals about Big Data and the associated challenges. The resulting report, The State and Local Big Data Gap, finds the obstacles to harnessing Big Data include a lack of data storage and access, computing power and IT staff.

Currently, only 2 percent of state and local agencies have a complete Big Data strategy. Roughly half (44 percent) aren’t discussing Big Data, and 39 percent are learning about the technology and how it could work for their agency.

Current Situation

Nearly everyone agrees that their agencies stand to gain from Big Data. Benefits cited by respondents include improving overall efficiency, improving the speed and accuracy of decisions and gaining a greater understanding of citizens’ needs.

But today, just 50 percent of state and local agencies analyze the data they collect, and those volumes are quickly exploding. According to the Meritalk study, the average state or local agency stores 499 terabytes of data. That growth is expected to continue unabated, particularly with an influx of data from social media and sensors.

The size of data sets poses an obstacle — 33 percent of public-sector agencies have a data set that has grown too big to work with. And unstructured data can present challenges, too.

A full 46 percent of agencies need additional storage capacity to manage large amounts of data. Another 42 percent need speedier computation, and 35 percent require additional personnel skilled in Big Data management.

In an effort to address the tech gap, agencies are pursuing a variety of solutions, including investing in IT systems, solutions and storage infrastructure, improving security of stored data and training IT staff to manage and analyze Big Data.

Future Solutions

MeriTalk recommends that agencies begin planning now by taking the following actions:

  • Tackle issues such as who owns Big Data.
  • Brainstorm ways to approach unstructured data.
  • Ramp up Big Data planning.
  • Invest in data-management staff and training.
  • Start small with a Big Data pilot program.

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