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GCN : June 2014
AS MORE PEOPLE join the discussion about big data, and as they continue to evaluate what the concept means for government IT, chances are you will see the phrase "big data use case." Understanding what is meant by a use case, and how use cases have a broader impact on government sys- tems, is key when it comes to understanding why big data is di erent than traditional government data collection and processing. Let s start with what the phrase "use case" itself. The phrase has earned a place in software engineering ver- nacular over the past 20 years. Originally use cases served as a way to examine whether an IT system design met the real- world conditions for business steps and information flow. A good example of a big data use case is the influx of sensor data collected by smart city applications, or by Defense Department perim- eter sensors, surveillance videos and more. What do you do with all these new types of data? Think of a use case as a thought experiment detailing how data can be used, what business need can be met through that use and what needs to happen in order to make that use case a reality. One major di erence with big data use cases is that big data is often held in a central repository where it is made available to multiple applica- tions. And in today s third platform era, where big data, INTERNAUT BY SHAWN McCARTHY cloud mobile and social merge, a business case may extend across multiple ap- plications. At government o ce might have several concurrent big data use cases operating at once. Such use cases could include anything from run- ning a large financial report to evaluating the e ciency of ongoing procurement ef- forts. The business processes associated with each use case can interact with one of more applications, and the indi- vidual applications could call to the same universal big data set that is available across the enterprise. Some typical big data use cases are listed below. Sensors: The National Weather Service collects tera- bytes of data from monitoring systems around the globe through the Joint Polar Satel- lite System (JPSS), which monitors environmental conditions, and the associ- ated JPSS Common Ground Systems (JPSS CGS), which draws data from sensors and satellites. This data is available through a central repository. Ongoing weather predictions could be one use case, and another could be long-term crop forecasts. Entity analytics: Entity analytics looks for connec- tions between entities, which can be people, places, things, locations, transactions or one of many other data points. By sifting through billions of data points, analysts can tell if a house where suspi- cious activity is taking place is also the mailing address for a credit card that has been used to purchase suspicious items. Many connections can be made through applica- tions that have access to the central collection of data entities. Di erent applications can support police reports, connection maps and fraud analytics. Compliance records and national resource controls: Managing national resources means measuring and evalu- ating large volumes of data related to land, water, soil, plants and animals. One good big data use case is the EPA s ECHO website, which pro- vides integrated compliance and enforcement information for about 800,000 regulated facilities nationwide. With the data in ECHO, environmental managers can get a snapshot of a facility s compliance record. Each of these types of reports may come from a di erent business application, but they can pull data from a central repository. Health services: Data from hospitals, accident reports, disease control e orts and social service case files can quickly show which geo- graphic areas or socioeco- nomic levels are over served or under served by current health e orts. The real power of big data comes when this information can be cross tabbed with the environmen- tal data. Health-related cause and e ect correlations are easier to hypothesize when relevant data is accessible. These are a few examples of big data use cases that extend beyond the realm of stand- alone applications. Big data can mean big changes for the way government conducts its research and its ongoing business. Understanding use cases can help IT managers look beyond their silos and dedicated applications and make the leap to big data. It s a big, increasingly interactive world out there for government IT. (And we have the big data to prove it.) • --- Shawn McCarthy is research director for IDC Government Insights. 16 GCN JUNE 2014 • GCN.COM Understanding use cases can help IT managers look beyond their silos and dedicated applications and make the leap to big data. The power of big data: It's all in the use cases