Public sector faces big barriers to big data – survey

Big data analytics has improved government decision making, feds say — but many agencies don’t have the hardware to support it.

Big data can be helpful to the federal government, according to a new survey, but only if agencies have the hardware and personnel they need to make proper use of it — and it seems most don’t.

Of 100 public sector employees surveyed by Unisys, 73 percent of respondents said they were worried their agencies’ “current storage, computer and networking infrastructures might not be able to support their big data needs.” An additional 70 percent admitted they “are concerned about their agencies’ ability to analyze key data rather than simply collect it.”

Big data projects, which the survey defined as those that “address the challenge of how to harness the hundreds of thousands of petabytes of data collected by the government and use it as the basis for decision-making and to predict trends,” have played a critical role in a number of large-scale federal government efforts, from dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to aiding the efforts of inspectors general. In the survey, 93 percent of respondents with active big data projects said “the use of advanced data analytics has improved the quality and speed of decision-making,” while 87 percent said “the projects have improved their ability to predict trends and quantify risk.”

Many organizations have been slow to adopt big data, however, citing insufficient hardware and often a lack of specialized workers capable of executing big data projects. In the survey, 35 percent of respondents said they had “difficulty obtaining and retaining the [knowledgeable] workers and data scientists needed for successful big data initiatives.”


According to the survey, only 16 percent of agencies have “fully implemented” big data initiatives, while 40 percent have no big data plans whatsoever. Of the remaining 54 percent, some agencies are “investigating” initiatives while some are “piloting” projects.

This trend may experience a spike in the coming months, though: 68 percent of employees said their agencies “are hiring more data analysts,” and half said that their agencies are seeking a director for data analytics.”



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