Big Data is helping local governments govern better

29th April 2016
Big Data is helping local governments govern better

Gaurav Vohra, CEO & Co-Founder, Jigsaw Academy, the Online School of Analytics explains  how big data can be a catalyst for better governance

Big Data’s riverine qualities, its sheer volume, tumultuousness, rapidity and heterogeneity indicate a latent energy or untapped potential that, left unharnessed, go to waste. In much the same way that turbines and generators transform running water into hydroelectricity, advanced analytics techniques marshal and convert data into the kinds of actionable insights that can power and drive strategic decision-making. Today, many industries and enterprises precipitate, mine, and process massive amounts of data; this includes companies in sectors such as products, services and technology (PST) and manufacturing.

Governments too are purveyors of large quantities of real-time information about people and institutions. This became amply apparent in the wake of the WikiLeaks and NSA scandals, which revealed the extent to which the U.S. and other world governments were monitoring and collecting information about their citizenry. According to various observers, the current standoff between tech giant Apple and the FBI over the latter’s attempts to break into the San Bernadino shooter’s iPhone, is representative of the American government’s ongoing efforts to lay legal claim to private information that is off-limits.

While this information was collected by illegal means, governments are now beginning to access and utilise Big Data for both national security as well as routine governance purposes. At a recent event organised by Cloudera in Washington D.C., Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas), a CIA agent-turned-congressman, argued that Big Data analytics might be the best way to “protect our civil liberties, defend our digital information, and chase bad guys all at the same time.” Big Data is increasingly becoming a popular go-to solution for governments, for the reasons that Hurd outlined and because it can help improve governance in general.

Governance Big Data style
Big Data is being used to enable government agencies to respond to ground realities in a targeted, timely and efficient manner. ‘Smart cities’ are an example of this; their implementation being one of the Indian government’s long-term goals. Smart cities rely on ‘smart’ governance solutions that are predicated on data generated by a technology called the internet of things (IOT). IOT ecosystems comprise objects (in this case, government assets like buildings or streetlights) that have been equipped with sensors which allow them to converse, or share information (data), with each other.

Here are some instances of how smart cities capitalise on the data that they generate.

Garbage and the ‘Internet of Moving Things’: The city of Porto, in Portugal, has the world’s largest Wi-Fi hotspot. Tech start-up Veniam installed Wi-Fi routers on the cities buses, and planted sensors across the city. As the buses traverse the city, they pick up and transmit information from the sensors, to the authorities. So when a garbage bin is full, its sensor goes off. This information is conveyed to the sanitation department, which can send someone to empty the bins. Garbage collectors no longer have to go around the city inspecting garbage bins. They go only when and where they’re needed, thus cutting back on fuel costs and deploying manpower strategically. Veniam refers to this set up as the Internet of Moving Things, because the information is gathered and communicated while the buses ply their routes.

Glasgow’s easy rider(s): The city of Glasgow has turned to “cloud-based Big Data automation” to manage the flow of traffic and monitor noise and air pollution. Bus drivers can track traffic levels on their routes in real-time, thanks to sensors embedded in streetlights in various parts of the city. This alerts them to potential delays and informs the transport department of bottlenecks and the exact combination of factors contributing to them.

These are just two instances of how IOT-generated Big Data can—and already has—transformed the ways in which governments govern. As for India, experts believe that Aadhar is set to be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the ascendance of Big Data analytics. Rajat Moona, Director General of the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing (CDAC) in Pune notes that Aadhar has “huge population data associated with it. Right now it is only a collection of data, but once we start rolling out applications, the amount of information that will be generated and the amount of usage that will happen will be enormous”.

Big Data’s potential to transform governance as we know it, seems to be unlimited.

Jigsaw was started in 2011 by Gaurav Vohra and Sarita Digumarti. They were brought together by their shared passion for data and their belief in the power of analytics and Big Data to change the way not just industries, but individuals could work. Gaurav has over 15 years of experience in the field of analytics and has worked across multiple verticals including financial services, retail, FMCG, telecom, pharmaceuticals and leisure industries.
April 29 2016