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Commission recommends formal career track for ‘big data’ experts

Oct. 3, 2012 - 03:36PM   |  
By NICOLE BLAKE JOHNSON   |   Comments

The government should create a formal career track for the employees who manage its increasingly large volumes of complex and variable data known as “big data,” according to a new industry report.

The TechAmerica Foundation’s Big Data Commission, in a report released Wednesday, calls for a new federal academy to train and certify employees to capture, store, share, manage and analyze vast volumes of data.

The report highlights the Internal Revenue Service as a user of big data tools and techniques to crack down on tax fraud. NASA, the National Archive and Records Administration and Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services are also using big data tools and techniques.

As agencies increase their use of mobile devices and generate greater amounts of data from email, video, blogs and social media, the challenge of managing and making sense of that data becomes daunting, the report said.

“We’re hoping [agencies] take away a sense of urgency that they need to do something now to address business problems within their agencies and start communicating with other agencies that they are sharing with today or need to share information with,” said Bethann Pepoli, an executive at tech firm EMC. Pepoli served as a deputy commissioner on the report.

The report recommends that agencies:

• Take inventory of their data assets, including what data is available within the agency and what similar data is available across government.

• Identify two to four key business or mission requirements that big data can address, and determine how better management and analysis of the data would create value for the agency and the public.

• Consider how other agencies and organizations are extracting value from their data.

The report also highlights policy-level changes the government should consider, including: expanding the Office of Science and Technology Policy’s national big data strategy to encourage development of new techniques and tools for solving data problems; and expanding college internship programs that develop data science talent for government service.

In addition to Pepoli, executives from Dell, Hewlett-Packard, Amazon Web Services, IBM and other companies served on the commission. Federal Chief Information Officer Steven VanRoekel and other agency executives also contributed to the report.

The Office of Management and Budget in its 2014 budget guidance directed agencies to invest in high priority areas, including data analytics and data management.

Agencies are including big data needs in their requests for information to industry, said Diana Zavala, director of information management & analytics for HP U.S. Public Sector.

“The biggest issue is making sure that you have and can get to the relevant information that you need to make better decisions, improve processes, reduce fraud, waste and abuse [and] have better predictive capabilities,” Zavala said.

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