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Report: Data projects need to show payoff

Nov. 13, 2013 - 05:06PM   |  
By SEAN REILLY   |   Comments
Enduring Freedom
Army Pfc. David Diaz, right, assigned to Team Hatchet, 1st Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, Task Force 4-25, collects a DNA sample for biometrics on an Afghan man at a security checkpoint in Ayub Khel, Khost province, Afghanistan, last year. (Sgt. Kimberly Trumbull/Army)

Agencies need to do a better job of showing that investments in big data analytic technologies are paying off, a new report states.

“Even for mature analytics programs, this has been a struggle,” according to a report released Wednesday by the Partnership for Public Service and the IBM Center for The Business of Government.

If senior leaders are going to support data investments, they “need to see and understand the results and how they apply to achieving the agency mission,” the authors said. One way to do that is to package analytical findings in charts, graphs and other formats easy for top officials to understand, the report says.

A Medicare fraud prevention system, for example, can tout an estimated $32 million in reduced fiscal 2012 spending because it prompted claims denials and other steps to avert bogus payments. At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a program known as PulseNet saves close to $300 million in national health care spending each year by tracking outbreaks of food-borne illnesses and striving to reduce their spread, one academic study has found.

But despite pouring $3 billion from 2007 to 2012 into the collection of fingerprints and other biometric data from non-U.S. citizens in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Defense Department hasn’t come up with a number for the estimated return on investment

“Military guys view ROI as some sort of MBA thing that doesn’t apply,” said John Boyd, who directs biometrics and forensics programs for the Pentagon, and who is quoted in the report. “What resonates better, at least within DoD, is more of a risk-assessment standpoint, in other words ... more of an outcome metric.”

But without ROI yardsticks, biometrics is at a disadvantage in the battle for funding as the Defense Department’s budget shrinks. While the Pentagon says that it uncovered 3,000 enemy combatants among the 1.1 million people in Afghanistan from whom biometric information was collected in 2012, the report says, “it’s difficult to say whether this is a terrific outcome or merely adequate, or whether it could have been achieved more effectively by other means.”

The report’s release comes a day after the Obama administration highlighted agencies’ use of partnerships with private organizations to help spur innovation in big data use.

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