5 ways to create big data opportunities

There's a lot of noise around big data, here are five steps you can take to get your customers to embrace the power of big data.

There’s no doubt that the decibel level around big data is rising. Agencies are looking to big data to solve the critical need to store, manage, and extract meaningful value from massive quantities of information.

Some are actively using big data tools, such as Hadoop, to transform the way they do business.
 
One could argue, however, that the avalanche of interest in big data solutions has not yet led to an avalanche of big data RFPs and RFIs. Part of this can be attributed to the fact that big data isn’t always explicitly labeled as such. Big data can be embedded within virtualization, data center consolidation, and data storage projects. However, the real barriers to big data RFPs and RFIs aren’t about nomenclature; they’re the technology, privacy, and budget factors preventing a more accelerated embrace by agency decision makers.

As one of several industry executives serving on the TechAmerica Foundation’s Federal Big Data Commission, I had the pleasure of playing a small part in the recently issued TechAmerica report, “Demystifying Big Data.” The report provides agencies with a roadmap to using big data to better serve citizens. It also offers a set of policy recommendations and practical steps agencies can take to get started with big data initiatives.

Industry-led efforts such as the TechAmerica report underscore the vested interest that federal IT providers and government contractors have in addressing agency hesitations around big data. What follows are several ways vendors can foster an environment more conducive to big data RFPs.

Distinguish Today’s Big Data From Yesterday’s Business Intelligence

Although agencies are sitting on mountains of data, they are still grappling with how to tap into and transform that data into a valuable asset.
 
Today, federal IT solutions providers and government contractors must effectively communicate that they understand the value of big data extends beyond just the big data cloud infrastructure. Success requires layering analytical tools on top of the data that deliver insightful and easy access to information. By demonstrating these capabilities, providers can hammer home to agencies how modern big data solutions can deliver stronger results – without the prohibitive implementation requirements that have, in the past, doomed many business intelligence projects before they even began.
 
Address Data Quality Concerns

The TechAmerica report expertly lays out key characteristics of big data: Volume (the sheer amount of data being generated), Velocity (how fast data is being produced), Variety (the disparate sources data can originate from), and Veracity (the quality and provenance of received data).
 
All of these characteristics are vital, none more so than the quality of data. Agencies will not simply release their data to any vendor that comes along. As agencies digitize mountains of data or navigate through bandwidth-heavy video files for intelligence purposes, accuracy of data is paramount. Vendors must make the case for how they will preserve information accuracy that can be compromised when data are incomplete or ambiguous.

Data quality isn’t just about the wrong information; it’s also about latent information. Data that is accurate one hour becomes inaccurate the next as input and factors change. Big data tools must prove they are responsive in providing rapid – and accurate – answers.
 
Recognize Data Privacy Isn’t Data Security

My company, GCE, has been providing cloud solutions to the federal government for more than a decade. In the earliest iterations of cloud projects – and again when big data projects began in earnest – agency pushback often drifted to traditional security concerns, such as locking down systems and addressing compliance issues.

There’s no question that security will always be important to agencies involved in both mission-critical and non-mission-critical operations. Even so, vendors have addressed the security vulnerabilities around cloud computing and data accessibility. As a result, the conversation today has shifted to data privacy. Vendors now need to demonstrate that they can prevent data from being exposed to unauthorized individuals. The data privacy challenge extends from ensuring data is kept private within or across authorized agencies to maintaining the privacy of citizen and consumer data the government is charged with protecting.
 
Shift Financial Burden From Agency To Vendor

In real estate, it’s location, location, location. For today’s government agencies, it’s budget, budget, budget. How can vendors help agencies do more with less? And how can vendors reduce costs without compromising results?
 
If an agency’s only exposure to big data tools comes in the form of vendor proposals that require massive investments in IT infrastructure and staffing, that agency is unlikely to move forward with issuing big data RFPs. Agencies will be far more likely to walk down a big data path with a solutions provider that shifts the financial burden from agency to vendor.
 
Indeed, agencies have been drawn to big data cloud providers that have invested in their own big data cloud. Agencies can leverage the vendor’s investments in a highly scalable big data framework for storing and managing data, including a toolset for performing consumer-grade search and analysis on that data.

As is the case with many emerging technologies, innovation and leadership isn’t being driven by large government contractors. Instead, look to a host of more nimble big data providers that are leveraging proven open source, cloud computing and advanced analytics technologies to deliver solutions rapidly and cost effectively.

Don’t Just Market. Educate

Over the past six to nine months, we’ve seen strong efforts by industry and government to build the big data knowledge base among agency decision makers. The TechAmerica big data report is a good example of how industry can play an active role in guiding agencies through big data initiatives. It also underscores that vendors can’t generate more big data RFPs through marketing slicks and sales tactics alone. Education will continue to play an important role.

Going forward, this education process must extend to contracting officers. What’s more, education should focus not just on what big data tools are available, but also on how to best engage with vendors for big data projects. Agencies need guidance on how RFPs can be constructed to meet the needs of all agency personnel who will interact with the data.
 
The need for big data is strong and the timing is right. Now it’s up to vendors to proactively clear the path for big data success. With the right support, agencies will begin to enthusiastically pursue big data RFPs.

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