Data Management

Big data affects hiring, privacy

Big Data word graphic

Big data is the big cheese right now among technologists, and the recent emergence of it as a high-profile concept may prompt agencies to reconsider their staffing priorities.

Teresa Carlson, vice president of Amazon Web Services’ Worldwide Public Sector, said the federal government should start hiring employees with big-data expertise and train existing employees who want to learn more while identifying the best processes for navigating the big-data movement.

“Data scientists are the new cool,” Carlson said, speaking at an executive briefing sponsored by FCW and TechAmerica on Dec. 12. “What the government should be thinking about in agencies is, how do we open it up, how do we provide opportunities for employees?”

However, as companies and federal agencies begin to use new technologies to take advantage of big data, questions about privacy inevitably arise.

“We must take privacy very seriously,” said Robert Ames, senior vice president of information and communications technologies at In-Q-Tel. “The reality is there is very little regulation on this.”

Ames said legislation on big data could come as early as next spring and said, “I think it is time to start the discussion about policy and regulation about big data, but it is too early to get too prescriptive about it because it is so squishy and evolving.”

Big data is a relatively new term for the process of collecting and storing large amounts of data. Ames cited several scenarios in which big data is being used to good effect. For instance, it is helping seismologists better predict earthquakes, helping meteorologists improve forecasts of weather events such as Hurricane Sandy and even helping people connect with one another online.

But Ames said the emergence of big-data technologies also allows companies to unlock context-based information about individuals, especially the hundreds of millions of people who use mobile devices.

Companies that are so inclined can “glean a lot of information about us — our patterns, schedules, who we’re meeting,” Ames said. They can then sell that information almost any way they want because “advertising technology is governed by gentleman’s agreements” that lack oversight.

“Do I want Google to know where I’m going all the time?” Ames asked. “We have to drive a fine line of balance between getting fingers into that stuff and destroying it.”

Generational attitudes will likely play a key role in any policies governing big data, said David Robinson, vice president and chief innovation officer at SAP Public Services. Members of older generations cringe at the thought of companies gathering and selling information about them, he said, but young people are not as bothered by it. Those views must be incorporated into future policies.

Big-data policies won’t happen overnight, he added, because technology innovation occurs more quickly than policy innovation does. But that doesn’t mean officials should not push to establish policies that direct how big-data technologies will be used in the near future.

“It’s important to have those policies in place,” Robinson said.

Policy-makers should keep in mind that big data will be around for a long time and plan accordingly, said Tim Paydos, director of IBM’s Worldwide Government Information Agenda Team.

He likened big data to e-commerce in the 2000s: By the middle of the decade, “every successful organization out there was operating under the principles of e-business.”

About the Author

Frank Konkel is a former staff writer for FCW.

FCW in Print

In the latest issue: Looking back on three decades of big stories in federal IT.


  • Anne Rung -- Commerce Department Photo

    Exit interview with Anne Rung

    The government's departing top acquisition official said she leaves behind a solid foundation on which to build more effective and efficient federal IT.

  • Charles Phalen

    Administration appoints first head of NBIB

    The National Background Investigations Bureau announced the appointment of its first director as the agency prepares to take over processing government background checks.

  • Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.)

    Senator: Rigid hiring process pushes millennials from federal work

    Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said agencies are missing out on younger workers because of the government's rigidity, particularly its protracted hiring process.

  • FCW @ 30 GPS

    FCW @ 30

    Since 1987, FCW has covered it all -- the major contracts, the disruptive technologies, the picayune scandals and the many, many people who make federal IT function. Here's a look back at six of the most significant stories.

  • Shutterstock image.

    A 'minibus' appropriations package could be in the cards

    A short-term funding bill is expected by Sept. 30 to keep the federal government operating through early December, but after that the options get more complicated.

  • Defense Secretary Ash Carter speaks at the TechCrunch Disrupt conference in San Francisco

    DOD launches new tech hub in Austin

    The DOD is opening a new Defense Innovation Unit Experimental office in Austin, Texas, while Congress debates legislation that could defund DIUx.

Reader comments

Please post your comments here. Comments are moderated, so they may not appear immediately after submitting. We will not post comments that we consider abusive or off-topic.

Please type the letters/numbers you see above

More from 1105 Public Sector Media Group