The Promise of Big Data for the Public Sector

In recent years, consumers have developed a new reflex. Accepting “terms and agreements” for any sort of application, software, or website has become so instinctive that few stop to question their purpose. If one were to read the lengthy legal contract that stands between the user and his or her destination, they would understand that clicking “accept” allows the host company to store a multitude of information about the consumer.

This gathering of consumer data is just one of many examples of the private sector’s use of “Big Data,” the collection and study of large volumes of information. Big Data allows corporations to use the internet to better understand consumer patterns and increase overall efficiency. This valuable tool has become a cornerstone of business in the 21st century.

While the private sector grows increasingly reliant on Big Data, the public sector lags behind. As illustrated by the flawed rollout of in late 2013, local, state, and federal departments have not invested the necessary resources in modernizing information technology capabilities. The public sector is far behind the Big Data curve and desperately needs to catch up, as the benefits of large scale data collection are too great to ignore.

By interviewing over 30 chief information officers (CIOs) from all levels of government, Kevin Desouza of Arizona State University’s School of Public Affairs within the College of Public Programs developed an understanding of why Big Data has failed to catch on in the public sector. Desouza identified common obstacles keeping CIOs from following through on plans to implement Big Data, which include a gap in understanding and a shortage of both IT experts and the non-IT leadership needed to head up projects. Overall, the tendency to become overwhelmed by seemingly daunting Big Data efforts is responsible for the public sector’s lack of involvement.

With the knowledge of what has compromised past efforts, Desouza has created a three-stage, 17-step program designed to address the needs of public sector agencies seeking to use Big Data for their benefit. The program begins with a planning stage that prompts the CIO to take a cautious look at the big picture while keeping an eye on essential details. Next, the execution stage requires the CIO and his or her team to keep the pulse of all major pressure points that have thwarted efforts in the past, such as a lack of communication and detrimental scope creep. The third stage insures a structured wrap up of the project and casts an eye towards the future with a postmortem review and brainstorming for the next project.

As is the case with so many technological advancements, the question about Big Data is not if but when it will fully catch on. The fact that the private sector is so dependent upon Big Data is a testament to its utility and value. By making the initial push to utilize Big Data, the public sector can enhance its efficiency and do more with less money. From detecting fraud to stimulating economic growth and increasing the effectiveness of emergency services, Big Data would have a major impact on governmental operations. Desouza’s three-stage plan eases the public sector into the world of Big Data in a mindful and well-organized fashion.


For Kevin Desouza’s full report, please visit:

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *