Fuelling a government revolution: why data is the new oil

The amount of data in the world is set to grow tenfold in the next three years. One of the greatest sources of this data explosion is government in all its forms. The increasing use of the Internet of Things (IoT) is adding rapidly to the deluge. Managing this data is both a challenge and an opportunity. Handled properly, all this data makes possible new models of service delivery and citizen engagement that were simply not possible only a few short years ago. Data really is the new oil for government.

Many commentators have talked about data as the new oil to draw attention to the fact that raw data delivers little real value to an organization. It is only once the data has been refined, distributed and applied that it becomes the information that drives everything. I think we need to take the metaphor a stage further: If oil fuelled the rapid changes in society throughout the industrial period, it’s data that’s fuelling the rapid changes we’re seeing in society today.

Governments are always faced with political, operational and cost pressures that can make innovation a slow process but there are incredibly positive signs that government organizations – national, federal, state, local and municipal – understand the potential of data. We’re still early in this cycle but strides are being made worldwide to tap this unrefined resource and turn it into a valuable asset.

I’d break the refinement of government data into three important areas.

The first is Open Data. Governments have made real progress in processing their data into a common format that can be shared with all stakeholders. The ability to work with citizens and private organizations on common data is already showing how new, innovative and targeted services can be quickly and cost-effectively provided.

Secondly, there’s Big Data. Government has traditionally been a process-driven operation – delivering services to the customer – but it must now become citizen-centric. It is now important to understand the real needs of citizens and engage with them to shape futures services and their delivery. The vast majority of citizen data is unstructured – emails, online chat, videos, social media – and external to the government organization’s own systems. Big data offers the opportunity to work with structured and unstructured data and gain insight in near real-time for effective decision-making.

Finally, there’s the Internet of Things. We’ve witnessed some really innovative uses of IoT technology in areas such as Smart Cities and Law enforcement. The ability for IoT devices to communicate automatically with each other and constantly capture data on a wide range of factors can make significant and cost-effective changes to how many government services are delivered. IoT also introduces a new lake of data to feed Big Data analysis.

Today, there are plenty of examples of where new uses for data are fuelling improvements within government.

Driving cost and inefficiency from Government administration

It is estimated that better use of data can save the US Government over $500 billion dollars a year in the reduction of fraud, waste and abuse. For example, the US Health and Human Services has used Big Data to save over $210 million in one year by identifying improper payments to healthcare providers. The US General Services Administration has saved over $15 million per year in energy costs by introducing IoT devices and sensors within Government buildings.

IoT is driving innovation in Smart Cities

From smart parking to automated detection of water leaks, governments now have access to real-time data that supports effective and efficient decision-making. Governments throughout the world have introduced IoT sensors that monitor many aspects of city life including temperature, humidity, air quality, noise and traffic behaviour. Barcelona is saving money through 3000 streetlights fitted with IoT sensors that only activate when motion is detected. These sensors also constantly gather information about pollution, noise, humidity and the environment.

Law Enforcement use data to improve public safety

Many police departments are now using Big Data and IoT to reduce crime. With Big data, they are able to predict the probabilities of future crime and the potential crime risk within an area as well as allow for better resource allocation and deployment. Several US states using the Predpol system have reported crime reduction of over 40% for burglary and 80% for vehicle theft.

IoT is allowing the use of frontline devices that increase the safety of both law officers and the public. UK police forces report a 20% drop in crime in areas where front line police officers are equipped with video cameras on their body.

Big data is transforming healthcare outcomes

Patient records are becoming increasingly digitized. Pharmaceutical companies have been aggregating years of research and development data into medical databases. Governments have been opening their vast stores of health-care knowledge. This is creating a new era for healthcare collaboration. One incredibly impressive example is all that’s needed here: The US has seen a 20% drop in patient mortality rates as a result of analysing streaming patient data.

Big Data is doing the same for education

By analysing the amounts of data created within educational establishments, an administrator can identify insights that can boost academic performance and student retention rates. Arizona State University analyses students’ keystrokes to determine their learning progression in mathematics and fully customize the curriculum to the individual. Harvard University gathers and examines data from millions of people around the world taking Massively Online Open Courses (MOOCs) to find the stumbling blocks that cause learners to fail.

While IoT and Big Data are beginning to bring real benefits to government, there is a long way to go. Something quite fundamental is required if the full benefits of these initiatives are to be achieved.  Governments have to begin to manage digital information as a ‘data supply chain’.

Implementing a structured and repeatable approach for the capture, storage, management, analysis, deployment, sharing and disposal of data is critical to take advantage of the tidal wave of data heading toward every government organization in the world. I


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