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Big data and government – An analysis

By  Chris Ouma
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A quick glance at nations in the developed world shows that big data has swept into every facet of industry and in their business functions and is now an important factor of production, alongside labor and capital.The same technology used by enterprises in these countries to analyse large data-sets for the purpose of knowledge mining can inherently change the way governments operate, breaking down bureaucracies and silos, enabling preventive action, incorporating citizens into every aspect of governance and increasing overall efficiency.

Big data is the continually growing volume of information created and captured by the digital society we live in today, from cloud based systems to cellphone GPS signals and other smart devices just to name a few . Analysis of Big data by a government allows for new opportunities to improve its effectiveness . New techniques in knowledge discovery from data enables companies and governments to bypass obstacles encountered when using legacy-systems. Obstacles that seemed insurmountable only a few years ago. We are soon to see novel solutions in all sectors of government, ranging from how agencies in the public domain do their business functions such as hiring, training and marketing promotions, to how they measure performance and how they identify and preempt problems. Innovation 2.0 if you will.

Although the term "Big data" seems skewed towards the business world , a significant component of big data in the civic realm comes from the community. Citizens generate data when they converse with government and its institutions via social media, when they participate in online forums, and when they call police hotlines or use city oriented apps and twitter hash tags to report problems or rate services. This feedback can be turned into unique solutions to guide governments' in their policy making, problem solving and allocation of resources.

The greatest value and insights to the citizenry come when governments, through their initiatives towards open data and transparency , produce usable information that allow meaningful public discourse in the delivery of public services. The proliferation of open data sets on sites such as opendata.go.ke encourages private sector, NGOs and crossagency use of once-locked information for the public good. It also inspires important debate on the standardization of data, interoperability and what has been subject to great debate in the news recently, privacy concerns

Yet these exploding amounts of data will only drive efficiency when organized and analyzed in a manner that supports decision-making. Governments all over the world are just now beginning to seriously include data analysis in their operations, but the results as foreseen have been very promising:The EU's Open Innovation report tells of how predictive algorithms have allowed police departments to anticipate future crime hotspots and preemptively deploy officers or buildings departments to determine which structures are most likely to have code violations in order to efficiently allocate limited inspector time. Africa can not afford to be left behind. To remain competitive in an ever more challenging global economy, it is critical not only for commercial business but also governments to seek the benefits of new technologies and work towards the development of new services for consumers and citizens alike.

Analyzing accumulated data from innovations such us Google's Bebapay card , can predict the effects of transit disruptions and give broad insight into transit-system operations. Integrating data from various agencies dealing with human services can also immensely increase the effectiveness of social workers and others stakeholders as they assist at-risk youth. Different agencies can make use of digital tools to collaborate and to capture new insight from their combined data resources.

Our society is currently experiencing a technology-driven change in governance as these technologies quickly become more affordable and accessible. Awareness of open source tools such as 'R' and 'Hadoop' and the opportunities they present can also help the public sector to blossom from underneath all the bureaucracy and its rule-driven entities.