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Big Data problem plagues government agencies

Thor Olavsrud | June 12, 2012
Big Data has the potential to transform the work of government agencies, unlocking advancements in efficiency, the speed and accuracy of decisions and the capability to forecast. But despite the potential benefits, most federal government agencies are struggling to leverage Big Data.

MeriTalk found that 42 percent of respondents believe that IT owns the data collected by the agencies, 28 percent believe it belongs to the department that generated the data and 12 percent believe data ownership belongs to the C-level suite.

"There's a lack of ownership of the data," Weber says. "It might not seem like that big of a deal, but it is. Who is responsible for mining that data? I think it's a partnership, but someone's got to be directing. Work needs to be done there."

Technology and a lack of personnel also present roadblocks. MeriTalk found that when it comes to driving mission results around Big Data, agencies estimate they have just 49 percent of the data/store/access, 46 percent of the computational power and 44 percent of the personnel they need. And 57 percent of the respondents say they have at least one dataset that has grown too big to work with using current management tools and infrastructure.

In an effort to help government agencies harness the power of Big Data, the Obama Administration announced a new "Big Data Research and Development Initiative" at the end of March that promises more than $200 million in new research and development investments in Big Data.

"In the same way that past federal investments in information technology R&D led to dramatic advances in supercomputing and the creation of the Internet, the initiative we are launching today promises to transform our ability to use Big Data for scientific discovery, environment and biomedical research, education and national security," Dr. John P. Holdren, assistant to the president and director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), said when announcing the initiative.

Under the initiative, the OSTP, together with six federal departments and agencies will work in concert to achieve the following objectives:

  • Advance state-of-the-art core technologies needed to collect, store, preserve, manage, analyze and share huge quantities of data
  • Harness these technologies to accelerate the pace of discovery in science and engineering, strengthen national security and transform teaching and learning
  • Expand the workforce needed to develop and use Big Data technologies


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