It seems like everybody’s talking about Big Data. How it’s a megatrend. What it’s doing to transform IT. And why it holds enormous promise for the business of modern government.
Now, you’re thinking Big Data is nothing new in government, right? For years, organizations have been collecting and storing massive streams of information. What’s new is the potential for these public organizations to recognize and capitalize on the untapped value in their data.
In my role as GM for Microsoft Government, Big Data is pretty exciting. Mainly because of what I call the new “What ifs.” Leveraged by the cloud, expanded computing power for utilizing public data resources is giving agencies unprecedented opportunities to ask all kinds of complex “What if” questions—and get reliable answers quickly and relatively cheaply.
Imagine a municipality or regional department wanted to project out, say, the impact of population growth on traffic patterns and transportation infrastructure over a multi-year period. Before, they had to schedule time on a supercomputer and hire an academic research group to build a semantic model. It might’ve cost $200,000. Nowadays, they can run much more robust queries in-house and the cost might be measured in pennies.
One of the next-generation tools that will enable scenarios like this is something we code-named “GeoFlow,” and it’s generating a lot of buzz in previews. GeoFlow is a three-dimensional data-visualization tool for Microsoft Excel 2013 that lets you visually plot up to a million rows of geographic and temporal data, in 3-D, on Bing maps. It generates dynamic representations that can reveal insights that might not be readily apparent in traditional two-dimensional tables and charts. And they can be captured in interactive, guided video tours that convey vast amounts of business intelligence… instantly.
The potential uses for resource management, emergency planning, service delivery, and other public sector applications are virtually unlimited. Best of all, GeoFlow doesn’t require advanced computing abilities. Anyone with basic Excel skills and access to data can use it.
This is just one way agencies are benefiting from Big Data. A new Microsoft datasheet, The Real Impact of Big Data for Lean and Modern Government, summarizes more positive results from the recent Big Data Research Study 2012 conducted by FCW/GCN. What caught my eye in the study was that a majority of agencies surveyed reported that Big Data:
Increases the quality and speed of agency decision-making: 76%
Improves the efficiency of internal processes: 67%
Supports better customer service: 65%
Reduces operating or capital expenditures: 65%
As if that weren’t enough, it’s also gotten easier for agencies to share their data and to integrate other datasets to meet business objectives. The Windows Azure Marketplace and the U.S. federal government project Data.gov are two great resources available to public and private sector entities, research and academic organizations, and anyone else with an interest or a business need. With this kind of open accessibility, government organizations of nearly any size have a strong foundation for exploring public-private partnerships and new opportunities for revenue and economic development.
I highly recommend a Microsoft white paper, Big Data Ready to Help Government Agencies, which just came out in March and explores these topics in greater depth. I think you’ll find interesting and applicable ideas that your agency can use to unlock the potential in your data, save money, and operate more efficiently than ever.
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