The emergence of big data has meant greater efficiency and reduced costs for businesses in a variety of industries as well as organizations with an array of interests. The mass integration of this technology has not been exclusive to the private sector. Taxpayers will be pleased to know that the government has not been oblivious to the rise in data analytics and its propensity for helping government agencies to make better use of the resources at their disposal. To date, government agencies have put data-based technologies to use in a variety of functions, enhancing financial efficiency, security, and even matters of well-being as personal as health. Consider some of the ways government agencies have used big data to improve the quality of their work.
Data analytics have enhanced the government’s approach to security. Cutting-edge commercial security solutions, which commonly incorporate technologies such as intelligent video analytics, have given government agencies enhanced surveillance capabilities. For example, many analytics programs are now equipped to assess facial features in images or body language in video footage. This makes it easier for government entities concerned with security to prevent and respond to crimes. In 2013, in the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombing, law enforcement officials used analytics software to process nearly 500,000 images. Facial recognition software programs, which relied on descriptions of the perpetrators given by witnesses, were valuable in the government’s search for the perpetrators. Additionally, the immediate nature of this surveillance-based analysis served as a valuable asset for law enforcement officials during their search.
Due to the great versatility of government interests and affairs, purposes for government use of big data analytics are numerous. The government has a hand in everything from regulating consumer vehicles to maintaining the roads they are driven on. Even something as personal as health is of interest to the government — and data analytics have even made it easier for government agencies to monitor this matter as needed. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has used data analytics to assess patterns in outbreaks of foodborne illness. This has enabled the FDA to respond more quickly to foodborne illness, which is the cause of thousands of deaths annually. Recently, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has begun using health-tracking wristbands to monitor the conditions of veterans under their care. This development has allowed the VHA to anticipate episodes of illness or health-related crisis before it occurs so that preventative measures can be taken.
Despite the fact that big data is used by many different government agencies for such a variety of purposes, at the heart of the matter is one overarching purpose: to decrease cost and increase efficiency. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does this by using big data to prevent fraud, which costs the government money. The SSA uses data analytics technology to analyze the staggering number of disability claims received annually. Data analytics are used to detect fraudulent claims. Similarly, the Securities Exchange Commission has developed a way to use data analytics technology to identify illegal trade practices. Another example of this is the Tax Administration, which uses data analysis software not only to process tax returns and screen them for fraud, but also to analyze systems to identify areas of weakness in the event of a breach. The ability to screen and process massive quantities of information in order to identify common errors, suspicious activity, or even potential threats is invaluable. This is particularly true in light of the risk of human error involved in having employees sort through such a large collection of information.
Rick Delgado is a technology commentator and freelance writer.
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