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Big Data on the Rise in Federal Agencies

From the Department of Defense (DoD) to intelligence and civilian agencies, big data is a critical new tool. But concerns remain, according to a recent survey by Unisys Corporation.

Big Data Analytics is defined by IBM as “…the use of advanced analytic techniques against very large, diverse data sets that include different types… beyond the ability of traditional relational databases to capture, manage, and process the data with low-latency. And it has one or more of the following characteristics – high volume, high velocity, or high variety.”

Uses can include intelligence gathering and analysis, public administration, threat assessment, etc.

The uses within the homeland security environment are numerous. Rod Fontecilla, vice president for advanced data analytics at Unisys Federal stated, "Forward-thinking agencies within the federal government have proven the value of advanced data analytics in mission areas ranging from protecting against potential threats related to goods and people crossing our borders to projects for evaluating the potential delinquency risk of federal loan programs."

With regard to those agencies not using big data analytics, Fontecilla said it is unfortunate given the results of those who have successfully implemented such programs.

According to the survey, “93 percent of federal government respondents with big data projects underway said that the use of advanced data analytics has improved the quality and speed of decision-making, while 87 percent said that the projects have improved their ability to predict trends and quantify risk.”

Among those polled, Unisys reported DoD and intelligence agencies were more prone to view the implementation of Big Data analytics as a crucial tool in the achievement of their agency missions, often citing intern process efficiencies as a major benefit. Overall these statistics indicate an overwhelmingly favorable assessment of advanced analytics by agencies currently engaging in big data projects, but critical concerns remain.

The survey found 73 percent have concerns about their agencies storage capacity and nearly 70 percent possess concerns about their ability to analyze big data as opposed to simply collecting it.

Unisys identified four in ten agencies with no current big data aspirations attribute a lack of staff resources as the primary reason among other concerns such as IT infrastructure, development time and cost. In short, the primary concern among these respondents is not the quality of results using advanced analytics but a lack of qualified personnel, equipment and budget constraints.

The issue not only appears to be finding qualified personnel, but retaining them as well. This is notable as 35 percent of agencies responded that finding workers with the appropriate knowledge and data scientists necessary for any level of big data project. However, the survey indicated efforts are being made to correct this problem with 68 percent of agencies hiring more data analysts and roughly half seeking analysts in a managerial capacity.

Use of big data in the federal government has dramatically increased in recent years. Homeland Security Today recently reported on the Transportation Security Administration’s continued effort to utilize data sets to address national security. While success has been mixed, and according to the Government Accountability Office critical inconsistencies cloud results, it is clear that use of these tools remains very much a part of homeland security efforts.

In the Intelligence Community, the use of big data has increased dramatically in recent years, with the CIA introducing a Directorate for Digital Innovation.

CIA Deputy Director Andrew Hallman recently asserted in an interview that big data has been particularly useful with ISIL and the terrorist group’s use of social media. “If you have time, you can develop insight into patterns,” he stated.

These are two examples of well-known big data analysis efforts in federal agencies, However, they are indicative that advanced analytics and big data appear to be not only here to stay, but on the rise in federal agencies.

Asked if this trend is likely to continue, Fontecilla told Homeland Security Today that, "Yes, because the opportunities for federal agencies to leverage big data are too important for federal leaders to ignore. We believe data is quickly becoming the center of everything, and advanced data analytics can provide opportunities for federal agencies to improve information-centric decision making and processes.”

“Agencies also are realizing they need to become data-driven organizations to obtain the benefits of data standardization, governance and the data strategies that can help them improve business outcomes and make better decisions," Fontecilla added, noting that, "We are continuing to work with our federal partners to seek new opportunities to leverage advanced data analytics to help agencies meet their mission objectives.”

Homeland Security Todayhttp://www.hstoday.us
The Government Technology & Services Coalition's Homeland Security Today (HSToday) is the premier news and information resource for the homeland security community, dedicated to elevating the discussions and insights that can support a safe and secure nation. A non-profit magazine and media platform, HSToday provides readers with the whole story, placing facts and comments in context to inform debate and drive realistic solutions to some of the nation’s most vexing security challenges.

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