Agency CIOs have trouble finding traction on big data

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As some government entities get started with big data projects, many public sector chief information officers find themselves fighting the perception that big data is just a passing fad in the technology world, according to a new report.

Released Feb. 9 by the IBM Center for the Business of Government, the report found federal, state and local CIOs have to tread lightly when discussing big data efforts and even avoid using the term because of negative connotations.

“Big data is a poorly defined term that has caused much angst,” said one respondent in the study. “The few [managers] that do have some views on it have been put off due to privacy concerns because of the National Security Agency’s surveillance program.”

Despite the pushback, CIOs did not recommend IT departments as owners of big data projects. They instead supported the idea that senior management is necessary for success, as big data projects involve multiple departments and agencies. CIOs also said it is important for someone in management to have their back and champion projects because projects tend to turn political.

All of the CIOs interviewed are now dealing with structured data, according to the report. None have explored managing unstructured data, and very few are actually managing large data sets currently.

The big data projects some CIOs are investing time into are focused on finding ways to streamline and re-engineer their business processes through investments in data management to bring attention to the topic.

“A focus exclusively on data issues will not get people to care, but if you can get their attention of process improvement and innovation for organizational value, then they do care,” one CIO said in the study.

Furthermore, CIOs do not expect significant IT investments during the first few years of their big data programs. A total of 80 percent of the CIOs interviewed said they would not need to make big investments in their hardware or software for big data programs.

Though CIOs do not need an investment for their projects, they are reporting a need to increase their human capital. CIOs reported losing staff to early retirement or to private sector jobs. The inability to send staff to training has hampered big data skills.

“I do not have a single staff member who knows how to run simple regressions … our staff has not played around with [Microsoft] Excel in any serious way,” according to one CIO in the study.

In face of the challenges, the study found CIOs are becoming champions for analytics and data-driven decision-making in their organizations. Though it is not a role they thought they would have been in, they are becoming more comfortable in the position.

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big data, data analytics, IBM Center for the Business of Government, Tech
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