recommended reading

The Return on Investment for Big Data Is Far Lower Than Promised


With new computers and software enabling the ability to store and analyze data faster and at a lower cost than ever before, it’s all too easy for federal leaders to become overwhelmed, so much so that many are failing to tie that data to specific mission-focused goals.

But as agencies grapple with harnessing the potential of big data in the future, they would be wise to look to the past -- to an era before sophisticated data-collection technologies existed and federal analytics programs had no choice but to use data to provide and demonstrate value, according to a new report by the Partnership for Public Service and the IBM Center for the Business of Government.

The report, “From Data to Decisions III,” mines programs like the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s PulseNet, a database that was developed in 1996 to connect foodborne illness cases to detect outbreaks, and a 2003 biometrics program at the Defense Department, to offer valuable lessons for agencies in how to apply data-based analysis to improve mission delivery and performance.

“Federal agencies, like companies, are susceptible to the deafening hype about how big data will improve productivity and process. But evidence is beginning to show that the return on big data investments to date is less than promised,” the report states, pointing to recent research by Wikibon that found that big data’s return on investment is currently just 55 cents on the dollar, far less than predictions of $3 to $4 for every dollar invested over the next three to five years.

Older analytics programs at agencies offer lessons in making analytics a default approach for accomplishing an agency’s mission, according to the report. Agencies, for example, should collaborate with other agencies to collect data and share analytics expertise, which could save money, improve productivity and increase the speed of analytics adoption.

In the age of budget cuts and sequestration, agency managers also must develop data to effectively demonstrate return-on-investment and give executives clear analysis and results they can use to support data-driven programs. Encouraging data use among employees and providing them with targeted on-the-job training also can help agencies make data analytics a standard operating procedure and an important piece of an agency’s culture and climate, the report states.

“What early data users didn’t do was consciously set out to use big data,” the report states. “Instead, they asked hard questions and sought data to answer them . . . Those questions and others propelled these users to collect and analyze data, which then became standard operating procedure and helped their programs evolve.” 

Join us at Nextgov Prime Nov. 20-21 where, among other things, we'll discuss the substance and challenges behind the hype of big data. Registration is free for federal employees

(Image via timquo/

Threatwatch Alert

Thousands of cyber attacks occur each day

See the latest threats


Close [ x ] More from Nextgov

Thank you for subscribing to newsletters from
We think these reports might interest you:

  • Data-Centric Security vs. Database-Level Security

    Database-level encryption had its origins in the 1990s and early 2000s in response to very basic risks which largely revolved around the theft of servers, backup tapes and other physical-layer assets. As noted in Verizon’s 2014, Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR)1, threats today are far more advanced and dangerous.

  • Featured Content from RSA Conference: Dissed by NIST

    Learn more about the latest draft of the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology guidance document on authentication and lifecycle management.

  • PIV- I And Multifactor Authentication: The Best Defense for Federal Government Contractors

    This white paper explores NIST SP 800-171 and why compliance is critical to federal government contractors, especially those that work with the Department of Defense, as well as how leveraging PIV-I credentialing with multifactor authentication can be used as a defense against cyberattacks

  • Toward A More Innovative Government

    This research study aims to understand how state and local leaders regard their agency’s innovation efforts and what they are doing to overcome the challenges they face in successfully implementing these efforts.

  • From Volume to Value: UK’s NHS Digital Provides U.S. Healthcare Agencies A Roadmap For Value-Based Payment Models

    The U.S. healthcare industry is rapidly moving away from traditional fee-for-service models and towards value-based purchasing that reimburses physicians for quality of care in place of frequency of care.

  • GBC Flash Poll: Is Your Agency Safe?

    Federal leaders weigh in on the state of information security


When you download a report, your information may be shared with the underwriters of that document.