4 Benefits for the Public Sector when Governments Start Using Big Data

July 25, 2013
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ImageGovernment services, or the public sector, are known for creating large volumes of data. Big data thus provides plenty opportunities for governments to save a lot of public money.

ImageGovernment services, or the public sector, are known for creating large volumes of data. Big data thus provides plenty opportunities for governments to save a lot of public money. According to the UK free market think thank Policy Exchange, the UK government could save up to £33 billion a year by using public Big Data more effectively. McKinsey has investigated that the potential annual value to Europe’s public sector thanks to big data is 250 billion euro. There are a lot of different use cases available to the public sector, ranging from reducing tax fraud, to improving services for citizens. Let’s have a look:

Improved transparency and decision making while reducing costs

Transparency within governments can be improved as well as time and money required by government officials and citizens to comply with tax regulations can be reduced. A lot of government tax agencies store personal data, which is copied all over the public sector. Over and over again, citizens have to complete new forms with information most governments already have. Pre-filling forms reduces errors and speeds up process time. The Swedish Tax Agency offers services in pre-filling of forms with personal data in a manner that reduces processing times. The Dutch government pre-fills the annual tax forms with information from employers as well as bank account information.

When all data is stored in one central location, it will become possible to give government officials access to all information from a centralized location. Thereby reducing errors and inefficiencies within the government and ensuring that the correct information is used. This will enable government officials to have access to the most up-to-date information on their citizens. Governments can make use of open source tools like Accumulo, developed by the NSA, which enables search queries and results based on the authorization a government employee has.

Governments that make their massive big data sets available, stimulate the free-flowing of information, contribute to the transparency and build trust with their citizens. It will empower citizens to understand the data generated and gathered by governments and what they do with that information. Sharing such data sets will also help governments develop new and innovative services, as entrepreneurial citizens will help build those solutions. The transparency will enable citizens to monitor and understand the effect of how governments spend public money and it will force governments to spend public money wisely.

Another big money saver is that with big data governments can obtain a complete overview of which government officials have travelled to where for what purpose and when and with whom. An intelligent travel and expense management system, powered by big data technologies, could enable officials that want to book a travel to understand whether or not travel is really required, in order to prevent sending too many people to the same place.

Personalized citizens experiences

Analysing unstructured and structured social / public data will enable governments to reply to changing events and react quickly if citizens are not happy or require need/assistance. Segmentation and personalization of citizens could help identify those citizens that are in need because they have become unemployed or have become in a different vulnerable situation. Algorithms can automatically define the help they require.

Governments can use the unstructured and structured online data, as well as voice recognition data from citizens calling the government, to better understand (national) sentiment, to learn from what citizens are looking for (from a local neighbourhood level, to city level and state level) and help policy makers develop and prioritize new public services. In addition, sentiment analysis can be used to discover potential areas of civil unrest and can help to take preventive action if required.

Such a personalized approach can be used during elections, to gain a complete understanding of what the voters are looking for and how they can be targeted best. The Obama campaign of 2012 is a great example of how big data can help politicians win elections.

Reduction in tax and social security fraud

In every country, tax means big numbers and therefore means a lot of data. With big data tools, governments can minimize tax fraud and or social security fraud by citizens. Algorithms can use pattern detection to find suspicious transactions occurring in real-time. Combining different data sets, local and national data sets and social data set, will provide additional insights in the tax paying behaviour of citizens.

Abnormal behavioural patterns can be spotted that indicate fraudulent actions. Patterns can be used to define profiles and statistical parameters to identify suspicious transactions, which can then be monitored more closely. Subsequently, governments can use demographic or social data to see whether or not those outlier cases really perform fraudulent actions, for example if someone has applied for social security is really allowed to receive it or is just enjoying a holiday.

To keep a country safe and healthy

For the justice system it is vital to understand when and where violent crime is happening or is about to happen. The Las Vegas police use algorithms to detect what the likely blocks in town are where crime is about to hit, using historical data sets and a broad range of other data sets. Applying an information-centric approach based on many different data sets will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of a criminal justice system. Of course big data tools enable governments to monitor what is happening within their country and to find malicious activities that could indicate an upcoming (digital) terrorist attack. Governments can collect, process, analyse the data from government networks as well as public data to protect their country from being under attack. This is exactly what PRISM does and it immediately shows the privacy issues involved in securing a nation against (digital) terrorist attacks.

When governments embrace the possibilities of big data, they can make a country a lot more effective and efficient, decrease a lot of costs associated with bureaucracy while improve citizen services and ensure safety. However, because governments collect such vast amounts of data on their citizens, it is important that privacy is always ensured and protected. What other benefits are available to governments using big data? Share your point of view in the comments below.

image: computer/shutterstock