Education, Training Key to Federal Big Data Adoption

IBM, SAP and others leaders in the big data world promote a TechAmerica Foundation report on boosting big data use in the federal government.

Education and training are key to bringing the benefits of big data to the federal government, according to a group of industry leaders who recently met in Washington, D.C.

Indeed, training the federal workforce about analytics and data science is central to tapping into big data, according to a new report released by the TechAmerica Foundation's Big Data Commission. The report, "Demystifying Big Data: A Practical Guide to Transforming the Business of Government," provides the government with a comprehensive road map to using big data to better serve the American people.

Developed with input from industry, government and academic leaders, this report defines key terms, explains the underlying technology in simple terms, and identifies best practices and lessons learned from early efforts. The report also offers a set of policy recommendations and practical steps agencies can take to get started on big data initiatives.

The commission report emphasizes that while the impact of big data may be more powerful than that of the Internet itself, the transition to becoming big data-capable will be evolutionary, not revolutionary.

Big data projects are currently under way across federal, as well as state and local governments with numerous federal agencies using new technologies to reduce fraud, boost health care, respond to natural disasters and improve public safety. With the Obama Administration’s announcement last spring of a $200 million big data research and development initiative, it is evident that the federal government is recognizing the challenges and opportunities of big data.

On Oct. 3, co-chairs of TechAmerica Foundation's Big Data Commission, Steve Mills, senior vice president and group executive at IBM, and Steve Lucas, global executive vice president at SAP, along with other industry and academic leaders from Amazon, Wyle, the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University, and the Western Governors University announced the new report with findings intended to help government agencies accelerate their big data initiatives.

"Data is one of our most valuable emerging natural resources,” IBM’s Mills said in a statement. “The implications of capturing value from big data are limitless for making business, the global economy and our society work better. That’s why it’s critical that our country prepare a new generation of experts who know how to corral today's data deluge for world-changing insights. With the right technology and skills, together with our government, we can better address issues from health care to public safety to fraud detection, ultimately leading to improved outcomes for our country and citizens."

"The evidence shows the government can extract enormous value from big data, for the benefit of all citizens," said SAP’s Lucas, also in a statement. "Imagine a world with more elderly and sick people, but better health care outcomes and lower costs; with more cars on our roads but less congestion. The challenge lies in capturing, managing and analyzing enormous data streams to extract those relevant insights."

Complementing the practical road map for agencies are key recommendations, including:

  • Work with What We Have: Augment current IT investments, rather than building entirely new enterprise-scale systems for a low-risk approach.
  • Double Down on Collaboration: Promote the data sharing and monetization of big data solutions across agencies. Enhance collaboration across agencies by naming a single official both across government and within each agency to bring focus and discipline to the big data challenge.
  • Invest in R&D: Continue research and development of advanced computing technologies that can effectively process not only the vast amounts of data being continually generated but also the various types. Develop applications for key government priorities, such as education, fraud and abuse, cyber-security, health care and public safety.
  • Focus on Skills: Strengthen and expand public-private partnerships to invest in skills-building initiatives for the federal workforce in the area of big data. These should include formal career tracks for IT managers, an IT leadership academy to provide big data and related training and certification, data-intensive degree programs and scholarships to prepare a new generation of data scientists.

"The Big Data Commission is another example of the power to create change when the technology industry and government work hand-in-hand," said Jennifer Kerber, president of the TechAmerica Foundation, in a statement. "Big data has the power to transform how government delivers services to citizens, and it is one of the many new tools available to enhance our daily lives."