20 August 2012

Big Data, Big Opportunity!

Local government has been using citizen data to make decisions on service delivery for some time now. However, we’ve reached a tipping point where there is simply too much information available for the traditional methods of successfully managing and manipulating data to work.

The term ‘big data’ was coined by an analyst at Gartner Group in 2001 and describes data sets which are beyond the capacity of commonly-used software tools to capture, manage, and process in a timely manner. The three big data challenges centre on theincreasing volume, velocity, and variety.

There are so many opportunities for local authorities to collect different types of citizen data, but this information then tends to sit in a number of different departmental databases that aren’t configured to speak to each other. This is a shame as if it was managed better, we could exploit opportunities to better understand citizens and improve services and communications to them.

A recent survey of senior management in local authorities seems to indicate that this is the case for the majority, with 67% claiming to have considered or undertaken projects to consolidate databases and use the information for the benefit of the organisation.

Our experience in other industry sectors alsoshows how improved data management leads to a better understanding ofstakeholders and an improvement in the services they provide to them. For example, in the utilities sector, one of Pitney Bowes Software’s customers was able to increase first time resolution of service complaints to 98% through better customer insight. And in the financial sector, greater insight into prospects meant that sales staff at a major institution were able improve new business rates by 200%.

In local government the challenges are different but there are the same requirements to satisfy the public and squeeze more productivity and greater services out of a tighter budget. And similarly managing and exploiting ‘big data’ is a major part of the solution.

The potential has not gone unnoticed and earlier this year the government published its plans for an Open Data Institute in London which will be co-directed by Professor Tim Berners Lee and Professor Nigel Shadbolt, who advise the government on data issue and chairs the Local Data Panel.

This is a positive development but it’s worth acknowledging you can only share your data when you have captured and controlled it. Big data is here to stay, and those local authorities that derive meaningful insight from their data will be able to make the right service delivery decisions for their area.

Alex Mathieson is from Pitney Bowes Software

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