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CIOs see Big Data as internet-like innovation platform for Government

Kenneth Corbin | Sept. 30, 2013
Government IT leaders envision open, machine-readable data sets from across departments and agencies offering a testbed for innovative new applications and services the feds would never create on their own.

When the Obama administration launched its open data initiative in 2009, federal agencies naturally responded by simply posting various nonsensitive information sets up on the government's new online portal,

Now, more than four years later, the government is moving into the next phase of the process and trying to make that data more usable, an effort that includes taking inventory of the departments' and agencies' assets, shifting to machine-readable formats, and, ultimately, layering APIs on top to make the data more accessible to developers and researchers.

"We all talk about big data, but really the issue for delivering on government missions is not just collecting data, but it's really transforming data into information products, developing knowledge out of that data," Simon Szykman, CIO at the Department of Commerce, said here at a government IT conference.

In the more forward-looking corners of the government, officials envision marshaling the government's data assets into a platform that could serve as a seedbed for innovation and development in the private sector and academia, inviting parallels to the government's role in the early days of the Internet and supercomputing.

Sharing more of our data, the benefit from doing that is not just the transparency issue. It's really creating new ways in which the data that we produce and disseminate can be used by others in ways that we may not have anticipated " —Simon Szykman, CIO at the Department of Commerce

"Across the federal government we have a very diverse but also coordinated set of activities that focus on the foundations of big data, and the foundations of how we move forward in creating the core technologies that can support all the activities," said Fen Zhao, staff associate at the National Science Foundation's Directorate for Computer and Information Science and Engineering.

A Platform for Innovation
"We want to build a platform on which you can do a lot of these great new innovative things, and build a platform just like the Internet — we had ARPAET, NSFNET, and built the foundational technologies that will enable the creation of the Internet and what everybody else will do with it," Zhao added.

In addition to her work at the National Science Foundation, Zhao is also a fellow in White House Office of Science and Technology Policy and is helping guide the big data research and development initiative the administration launched last March.

As part of that effort, which began with $200 million in funding commitments from six federal departments and agencies, the NSF earlier this year issued a request for information, seeking proposals for big data projects that would advance core technologies or serve national priorities like economic growth or education from businesses, academic institutions, nonprofits and other entities.


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