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Big Data can be a life saver, figuratively and literally. We’ve all heard about how Big Data can save time and money, but 87 percent of federal IT officials think that real-time Big Data could save a significant number of lives each year.

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Lifesavers aren’t much good if rescuers don’t use them, and a Big Data strategy isn’t much good if an organization’s culture doesn’t support it.

But changes in strategy, like putting rescue buoys by the pool, aren’t enough. There must also be a change in culture -- make the lifeguards carry the rescue buoys with them.

Big Data has already helped save lives in Edmonton, where the city uses high volumes of information to reduce fatalities on roads and at intersections. And medical researchers could aggregate cancer data, helping to find new treatments, according to an SAP-sponsored Big Data report by Washington D.C.-based innovation advocate TechAmerica Foundation.

As President Barack Obama urges Congress this week to delay sequestration, high-volume data analytics could be trimming $380 billion from the budget, according to “Big Data and the Public Sector,” which surveyed of about 200 government IT officials across the U.S. The report also found:

  • Real-time Big Data can save the federal government at least 10 percent each year, or about $1,200 per American
  • Big Data tools help law enforcement officials develop models to predict when and where crimes are likely to occur, reducing overall crime rate in specific locations
  • Insight from volumes of data across agencies can help the government provide improved, personalized services to citizens

High Costs & Long Waits

“While Big Data has great potential to make governments more effective, efficient and economical, there are cultural, practical and perception hurdles to clear,” stated an inforgraphic based on the study. “Chief among these is quelling citizens’ concerns that their data are safe and protected.”

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Privacy and policy concerned many survey respondents.

In fact, privacy was the biggest issue for almost half of the federal IT officials surveyed. Survey respondents were also concerned about high costs and long implementation times, which are problematic in the private sector as well.

Budget debates on Capitol Hill may keep the government from implementing Big Data solutions, just as experts forecast dismal revenue tightening private sector purse strings. Stamford, Conn.-based IT analyst firm Gartner predicts that growth in business intelligence (BI) software spending will drop to single dig... starting next year.

This Ain’t Your Father’s ROI

No clear return on investment (ROI) was a concern for 42 percent of federal respondents. But as Edmonton CIO Chris Moore said of his city’s Big Data expenditures, “We do some things just because they make sense.”

The world is changing, so concepts such as ROI may no longer be useful when thinking about investments in Big Data solutions. Strategies and cultures must adapt to millions of computers generating more data in a day than humans created in thousands of years prior.

“The field of data science is emerging to discover the laws that govern this species of data, while cloud computing is quickly eliminating constraints on data accumulation and storage,” SAP’s Ray Rivera noted Monday on SAP Business Trends. “Both are transforming big clumsy data into big potent data, and even big pervasive data.”

Data Tells the Real Story

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Most federal IT officials surveyed think that Big Data can help improve lives.

Big Data has collapsed other old paradigms too. One company spent three decades recruiting only employees with good grades from high-ranking universities, Josh Bersin of Oakland, Calif.-based Bersin by Deloitte also wrote on SAP Business Trends Monday. Bersin’s client understandably thought that the best students would make the best employees.

“Data showed a different story,” Bersin said, going on to describe far better predictors of an employee’s success. “Once this data was put back into the recruiting process, the company saw more than $4 million improvement in revenues in the next fiscal period.”

Such a success depends on more than Big Data or a tweak in strategy. The company had to change its culture to something robust and ravenous.

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” SAP’s Jason Rose shared on Coffee Break with Game-Changers last year. “So make sure your strategy is delicious.”

Related Media:

Big Data and the Public Sector” at TechAmerica Foundation

Big Data Opens Governments and Fosters Innovation” in SAP Business Trends

Big Data. Big Possibilities. Big Challenges.” at by TechAmerica Foundation