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8/30/2012
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State Agencies Need A Big Data Strategy

State CIO association urges states to make better use of big data, warns of challenges in implementing programs.

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State governments should begin laying the groundwork to utilize big data in ways that will benefit the public, according to a national association of state IT leaders.

In a just released report on the role of big data in state government, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) is advising its members to develop an enterprise architecture and data governance policies to maximize the potential of the information their state agencies generate.

"The challenge is that many state government agencies are still being run as islands of information versus members of a single state government enterprise," the report states. "The result is state government is not fully exploiting the data it has at hand."

Large volumes of data can be used to help manage the state "enterprise" and improve operations, but big data programs must be guided by practical and policy considerations, according to the report.

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"To prevent big data from becoming a 'big quest,' there must be rational, defensible reasons for pursuing it, and there must be a discipline for governing and managing the associated investment of people, finances, and technology," the report says. Such an evaluation will assist in building the business case for investing in big data programs, which have to compete with other IT priorities such as modernizing legacy systems, data center consolidation, cloud computing, mobility, and cybersecurity.

The NASCIO report offers recommendations on how state officials can begin to address the opportunities and challenges of big data projects. State CIOs must avoid creating a proliferation of big data initiatives that could result in "big data silos." Early efforts should be limited to well-defined opportunities.

State IT teams should also monitor what data is being collected by government agencies and their private sector partners, and assess the privacy and security issues associated with collecting data on citizens.

Defining an enterprise architecture will be essential as state governments establish more partnerships with companies in the private sector. As such partnerships spread and "per-use" service contracts become more common, the data generated will enable performance metrics, reinforcing the need for good data management.

The report cautions that it may be too early for most states to pursue big data initiatives, as their systems, enterprise architectures, and data management disciplines may not be mature enough to support full-scale projects. That said, "This is the right time to be exploring big data and running small initiatives to experiment and learn."

Cybersecurity, continuity planning, and data records management top the list in our latest Federal IT Priorities Survey. Also in the new, all-digital Focus On The Foundation issue of InformationWeek Government: The FBI's next-gen digital case management system, Sentinel, is finally up and running. (Free registration required.)

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