Big Data

Unlocking the True Value of Data for Government

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Technology is increasingly becoming more personal, and we’re benefiting in a variety of ways. We have devices at our fingertips to help manage and customize every stage of our days. Many of us are also using devices to track and analyze our steps, our health and our food intake.

Now, imagine if we can apply this level of personalization to how we interact with government agencies. As it turns out, an IBM survey revealed that nearly two-thirds of 800 government executives surveyed from around the world project consumer demand for more personalized experiences in three short years. But 69 percent of those surveyed don’t have integrated digital strategies to address this challenge, and 62 percent indicate gaps when it comes to resolving citizens’ issues.

At the heart of this challenge is making sense of the massive amounts of data generated by over 9 billion devices operating today, along with sensors and smart systems, which are connected remotely via networks. Called the Internet of Things (IoT), these connected devices and systems will soon be the largest single source of data on the planet, yet most of it isn’t being used. The key is to build the right infrastructure to unlock the full value of that data.

An emerging solution to do just that is cognitive computing, and government executives agree that these systems have the potential to radically change the public sector. According to the IBM survey, among those familiar with the technology, 87 percent believe it will play a disruptive role, 83 percent believe it will critically impact the future of their organizations, and 100 percent plan to invest in the technology.

But what does that really mean? Cognitive systems can help solve society’s most vexing problems. This new class of systems can help identify new patterns and insights by learning at scale, reasoning with purpose, and interacting with humans using natural language. Doing so would enable these systems to keep pace with the volume, complexity and unpredictability of information generated by the Internet of Things. Much of the data today is “unstructured” and we haven’t been able to leverage it until now.

Government agencies are already beginning to analyze data generated from The Internet of Things to improve operations, navigate complexity in operational environments, and improve engagement with citizens – but there’s room for cognitive computing to play a big role.

The General Services Administration is an example of how the government can make the best use of existing resources to not only save taxpayer dollars, but also save energy and be greener in the process. The GSA is using a system to monitor and gather data from more than 50,000 sensors every five minutes, perform analytics on that data and receive alerts about potential faults in buildings that could be causing increased energy use and operation and maintenance costs to rise.

With analytics, the GSA can more clearly see connections, interactions and opportunities for efficiency among the various building systems. And by adding cognitive computing, the GSA would be able to uncover even more insights through a system that can learn and reason from its interactions and experiences with its environment.

More broadly, there are three ways governments can apply cognitive systems to improve services and become more effective decision-makers:

  1. Engage with constituents using natural language to enhance the experience. Cognitive systems can play the role of “assistants”, providing citizens personalized advice on government services by delivering deep domain insights in a timely, natural and usable way.
  2. Discover valuable and useful insights that even the most brilliant minds might overlook. Discovery involves finding connections and understanding the vast amounts of information available within an organization and globally. Very soon, cognitive solutions will discover insights by connecting unrelated factors that human experts wouldn’t be able to detect on their own.
  3. Decide courses of action using evidence-based recommendations. Cognitive systems can aid in decision-making and reduce human bias by suggesting a set of options to human users, who ultimately make the final decisions.

As solutions become even more sophisticated, governments will be able to use data generated from the Internet of Things to encourage citizens to be more proactive about their personal needs and help the government continually improve how it serves the public. The possibilities are endless.


This blog first appeared in Federal Times on Jan. 4, 2016.

Global Program Manager, Cloud Communications; Managing Editor, IBM THINK Blog

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