As we move into 2015, the amount of data available in the digital ecosystem will increase very rapidly because of the Internet of Things (IoT), social media and wearable tech. In the future, the problem lies not only with data collection, but with what one does with the data.
Big Data, one of the main and recurring buzzwords of the digital century, will remain important, but will force us to answer the question of what we will do with the data. When dealing with data, we have to ask the right questions to get answers that will lead to action. In 2015, there has to be a shift in thinking about the uses and implications of data in our agencies. In order to delve a bit deeper into Big Data and its implications, we spoke with Samuel Bronson, Web Analytics Program Manager, at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
How has data management evolved over the past few years?
Mainly, data has gotten bigger and expanded in scope. As companies and organizations have found new value in data analytics, they have recognized the need to view their data streams as major assets. Data management, therefore, has been turned on its head in a way. What I mean is, instead of thinking of how to store and maintain data streams, innovative organizations are starting by developing their major business goals and hurdles first, and only then searching for what data can speak to those goals, how that data can be analyzed, and as such, what architecture and software tools would be most appropriate for their analytical needs.
What do you predict will be the areas of concern for data management in the future, as we move to IoT and wearables?
In one sense, IoT is not an entirely new idea, but the natural expansion of existing ideas. Utilizing WiFi technology to collect data from people, animals, and all types of mobile and immobile objects kind of seems like it was and is inevitable.
Area of Concern: Applying analytics to new data streams
There will be the challenge of knowing how to apply the process of analytics to all the new data streams. Agencies should know exactly why they are collecting this new data, what questions or problems they are meant to address, and what analysis techniques they will apply. It’s essential this type of thinking be applied from the outset. Otherwise, it’s easy to drown in that sea of Big Data, or find yourself focusing on the wrong areas.
Area of Concern: Privacy
With data collecting devices filling every corner of our homes, cars, and lives, where will the line be drawn? How much is too much? And, what security measures will be taken to reassure those who consider reassurance of privacy as a prerequisite to participation in the IoT? It will vary, of course, by device, product, and organization, but that’s a challenge that will have to be addressed.
How do you foresee Big Data impacting government in the years to come?
Many agencies are already dealing with disparate architectures, legacy data structures, and a dearth of subject matter experts who can make sense of it all. However, that will not prevent the downward pressure for innovative data analysis, visualizations, and prediction models. I believe the results will be a mixed bag, with some government agencies able to make real strides into using analytics to inform their overall mission and evaluate specific goals.
At the other end of the spectrum, you will see some agencies focusing too quickly on the wrong end of the formula, like what visualization platforms they want to standardize for their respective agencies. The agencies with visionary leaders who are asking, “what data and analysis techniques do we have available to tackle this specific problem,” are the ones to watch. What you don’t want are those leaders saying, “We need to do something with Big Data, and I think we need some great real-time dashboards. Let’s start by choosing a platform.” Solutions vary depending on the problem, and that remains especially true in regards to Big Data and analytics.
For the areas of concern you mentioned, how can the government play a part in addressing these challenges?
Area of concern: Applying analytics to new data streams
I believe it’s up to everyone involved to focus on solving problems first and ensuring that those folks involved in these project have the proper experience and training.
Area of concern: Privacy
I’m not a privacy expert, but I will say that IoT is a space the government should step into very cautiously, at least when projects involve public citizens. Video cameras on street corners and traffic light sensors are one thing, but going further could produce a real “big brother” problem. It will depend on the project, of course, but this is definitely not an easy one.
Samuel brought up some very interesting points about big data in the Q & A. There are many things to consider with the influx of data we all will receive in the coming year. When using data to drive the decisions in your agencies, be sure to think of what problems you want to solve and find the appropriate data. Be sure that you are in control of your data and that your data is not controlling you!