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Can big data really save billions?

bar chart made of $100 

In a recent FCW article highlighting a survey claiming big data could save the federal government up to $500 billion, a reader wrote:

Let us not forget history. Usually, when the government declares that they have a way to save lots of money, implemented costs usually go up not down. Obamacare is the most recent example. When there is savings from some program, it is almost always much smaller than projected. So, at best, all should be very skeptical about any claims of cost savings from Big Data.

Frank Konkel responds:

I want to be clear that the government is not claiming $500 billion in savings from big data as a technology. That number was extrapolated based on what 150 federal IT executives said their respective agencies could save through leveraging big data – a new technology that allows agencies to use the large amounts of data they produce for beneficial purposes. Those executives were surveyed by a company named Meritalk.

I agree with you that savings can be overstated in initiatives, especially those that come to fruition inside the politically-charged Beltway. In our reporting at FCW, we strive to remain objective regardless of the subject matter. If the government claims savings, we’ll ask questions to figure out how they got their numbers.

Big data remains a mystifying technology to some and a buzzword to others, but some agencies – as reported in this story – are diving into big data in a big way. In the past, we have examined the question of whether the government has the policies to truly implement big data initiatives, but we’ve also highlighted early and interesting big data efforts that are producing results – either in cost savings or producing a better product for taxpayers.

We’ve also reported on several aspects of what is probably the most advanced big data effort on the planet – the National Security Agency’s data collection efforts – highlighting its results while digging into its expected costs.

Big data may not be the savior it is touted to be by some – at least not yet – but there is clear evidence that it is being used by the government in efficient ways already. Rest assured we’ll keep asking questions as it continues to develop.

Posted by Frank Konkel on Jun 20, 2013 at 10:50 AM


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