Parham Eftekhari

As I tweeted back in December 2011, Big Data is well on its way to becoming the buzz of 2012. Here is a quick 101 to get you up-to-speed!

At the December 2011 GTRA Council Meeting, one of my good friends and probably one of the smartest people in Government sat me down to let me know about a new project he is working on… Big Data (I can’t tell you what the project is yet but I’m sure it will be public in no time!) At the time I only had a conceptual idea of what Big Data was and how it applied to Government and through my research over the past few months I’ve observed that while many have now heard of it, people’s understanding of it is still pretty basic. So here is a brief “Big Data 101” to get you up to speed:

What is Big Data?
The whole concept of Big Data deals with the fact that a lot of data exists in the world today but we have not done a good job at bringing it all together, much less analyzing it. In the government world, Big Data typically refers to all of the data that exists around a certain subject (be it an agency/department’s mission, cybersecurity, compliance, operational functions like HR & Finance, etc…). Now keep in mind there are many types of data on each subject – some we create in-house (structured) like reports, data feeds, monitoring records, etc… and some from external sources like social media which include videos, articles, comments and the like (unstructured). Big Data first aims at gathering all of this Data in one-place, and then uses Business Intelligence, storage and analytical solutions to analyze the data to gain knowledge and insights. The end goal is to maximize the knowledge that can be acquired through the colossal amounts of data that exists on any given subject.
How would YOU use Big Data?
While the private sector uses Big Data to help drive profits, our goal in the Federal Government will be to use Big Data to help make better, more informed decisions to support agency missions, deliver better services to citizens, and support our war fighters. The best way you can do this is to identify the areas where the amount of data you have has exceeded your ability to manually analyze it. Keep in mind that the siloed-nature of many agencies and their systems means that you many need to look outside of your silo to get the full picture of how much Data you truly have to work with (perhaps even to other agencies, private sector partners, or the web). Once you figure this out, tie this data (and there will be a lot of it!) back to an operational mission and build a business case showing why investing in Big Data would benefit your organization and support your business objectives. When this is done and you get the support of business leaders, you can proceed with looking at the multitude of proven Big Data technology providers to implement. It is important to note that Big Data is not just one technology, but a combination of storage, warehouse, BI, and analytical software that are used together as part of your Big Data strategy.
Who’s paying for all of this?
The one thing I have not read much about is the fact that there is no mandate or initiative out there requiring agencies to use Big Data…yet. Heck, there isn’t even official guidance from NIST or OMB on it! While I think this will change in the near future, this lack of ‘directive’ coupled with the budget crunch many agencies are facing will surely put Big Data on the back burner for many of you. While this may allow you to effectively ‘ignore’ this in the short term, history shows us that once something becomes the ‘buzz’, sooner or later you will be implementing it. And let there be no doubt about it… Big Data is definitely buzzworthy! My recommendation is to start exploring how this can be utilized within your agency/department so if nothing else, when the inevitable mandate comes down you will be one step ahead of the curve and can shine as a leader in this area.
More Reading
For those of you wanting to read more, here are some good links:
What are your thoughts on Big Data?

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