3 ways big data is transforming government

Bill Cull

There is enormous opportunity ahead for government agencies to use big-data technologies to manage data growth, gain new insights and innovate in ways they couldn't before. Here are some of the ways big data is already beginning to transform government.

1. Enhancing security and preventing fraud

In May 2012, the multi-agency Medicare Fraud Strike Force uncovered $452 million in false billings in the biggest crackdown on Medicare fraud in history. At the time, FBI Special Agent-in-Charge David Welker said 3 percent to 10 percent of the country's $2.5 trillion in annual health care expenditures are attributed to fraud.

Despite the progress government and law enforcement agencies have made, they have a long way to go. Big data can help. A large part of fraud detection is looking for patterns and anomalous activity. Using big-data analysis, security experts can track patterns and discover unknown threats in real time, incident response teams can monitor known threats and other suspicious behavior, and law enforcement agents can correlate historical data to help prevent future cases of fraud.

Other situations require real-time analysis to combat serious threats before they occur. For example, the Department of Homeland Security is using big-data tools to analyze cargo traffic from entry and exit ports to ensure that the global supply chain is secure.

2. Improving service delivery and emergency response

Big-data technologies are helping agencies be more productive, work smarter and be more agile at a time when budgets are tighter than ever.

We'll see open-data platforms become customary as people, business leaders and policymakers come together to determine how this country should be governed.

At the state and local level, several jurisdictions are using big-data tools to monitor complex transportation systems. Real-time analysis allows officials to anticipate problems that could disrupt transportation flow, alleviate traffic congestion and address other transit issues.

Cities are also using the data from 311 information systems to tackle emergency management problems. By analyzing text messages, phone calls and social media posts, first responders can get a better sense of where to focus their efforts. Advanced big-data technologies are also helping cities refine their disaster response and information-collecting mechanisms by improving the way people funnel their communications through 911 and 311 lines.

3. Democratizing information

Those 311 systems are based on open-data platforms, and their datasets serve as a rich resource for developers, civic groups and anyone else who wants to build applications for government.

At the federal level, the Obama administration's recent open-data executive order has breathed new life into an idea agencies have been working on with little guidance until now. However, we have already seen the movement take off in ways that will set an example for the rest of the government. For example, the health care industry is starting to shift toward more patient-centric systems in which people receive the most timely, appropriate treatment available.

Particularly in light of high-profile public disclosures on hospital prices, we'll soon see more open health care data that empowers patients. People will have access to information about which hospitals provide the most cost-effective heart bypass surgery or hernia repair procedures. That will encourage hospitals to offer the best possible service at the best possible price for local customers.

As government continues to tap into big-data technologies, we'll see open-data platforms become customary as people, business leaders and policymakers come together to determine how this country should be governed. Although the power, opportunities and capabilities lie within big data, it will be the people, policies and initiatives that will make a difference in how the data is used to make our government more secure, efficient and open.

About the Author

Bill Cull is vice president of the public sector at Splunk.

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