Opinion: Big Data, big business, big government, bigger brother

Where or how is the line drawn?

In his 1990 book The New Realities," Peter Drucker noted: "Knowledge is information that changes something or somebody - either by becoming grounds for action, or by making an individual (or an institution) capable of different and more effective action." And that is what Big Data is delivering . . . new knowledge, new insights and new actions, all of which will give us new problems to deal with.

Already Big Data is making an impact in government, which, when you think of it, is kind of a "slam dunk" given bureaucracy and huge amounts of data always go hand in hand. So, it will come as no surprise that a recent study conducted by the TechAmerica Foundation and commissioned by SAP AG, discovered that "82% of public IT officials say the effective use of real-time Big Data is the way of the future." Moreover, "83% of Federal IT officials say Big Data can save 10% ($380 billion) or more from the federal budget, or about $1,200 per American."

Wow! Sounds fantastic!

The study also found that government officials cited the potential of Big Data in lifesaving, crime reduction and improving the quality of citizens' lives. All of these advances were seen as coming from using predictive analytics to mine Big Data, for example, to "develop predictive models about when and where crimes are likely to occur." It also noted that, if the government can gain "insight into huge volumes of data across agencies, the government can provide improved, personalized services to citizens."

That sounds great too! We'll get better services for less money! Woo-hoo. But, wait! Hold hard! Any smart person has to wonder what might be the downsides of this brave new whirl of improved government data. What did these government IT people see as the negatives?

First, Big Data comes with a very big price tag and the study showed government officials recognize this. Good. Next was "a lack of clarity about Big Data's level of ROI." Very good! And the biggest negative? "The biggest barrier for taking advantage of Big Data is privacy concerns, according to 47 percent of federal IT officials. Officials believe the challenge will be explaining that Big Data analytics is not equivalent to 'Big Brother.'"

On the last point, the officials are dead wrong. In fact, staggeringly wrong. The challenge is about explaining how it would be possible for Big Data analytics not to become "Big Brother"!

[TIPS: 7 steps to Big Data success]

Already Big Data and predictive analytics in corporate hands has demonstrated unexpected consequences (see the story of Target's data mining program to identify pregnant women for a targeted marketing campaign which I discussed almost a year ago).

Now, combine those corporate Big Data resources with the real possibility of the government being able to access them through the provisions of the newly resurrected Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) -- of which bill sponsor Rep. Dutch Ruppersberger said he didn't see any reason why businesses needed to hide personal data from the government -- and throw in a generous helping of mission creep and what have you got? Bigger Brother on steroids.

The first thing you can do about this is make sure that CISPA and the inevitable procession of similar legislation that will follow gets as little traction as possible by joining organizations such as Demand Progress to petition congress to stop the insanity. The second thing? Brace yourself, because Predictive Big Data Analytics will be part of government faster than you can say "fiscal cliff." As for a third thing, pray.

Gibbs has his fingers crossed in Ventura, Calif. The government already knows what you think but tell backspin@gibbs.com anyway. Also follow him on Twitter and App.net (@quistuipater) and on Facebook (quistuipater) and check out the Tech Predictions blog.

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

Tags Configuration / maintenanceNetworkingTechAmerica Foundationhardware systemsSAPinfrastructure managementsoftwareKnoData CenterTechAmericamanagement

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