What's big data's impact on government services?

If government authorities are following the same processes as businesses, you'd think big data would mean some serious changes for public services. From better bus and subway schedules to enhanced road designs, the possibilities of this information could ultimately lead to happier voters across states and the nations. 

Inciting investment 
One thing's for certain: lawmakers are certainly interested in what the technology can do for them. According to InformationWeek, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is contributing $3 million to fund the state's Open Cloud project, which is expected to construct a new public cloud computing infrastructure to support data aggregation and analysis initiatives. 

The endeavor will be financially supported by the Collaborative Research and Development Matching Grant Fund and will be equated by $16 million from universities and private industry partners. Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick announced the details of the monetary backing in April at the Massachusetts Green High Performance Computing Center, which is prepared to house the hardware platform for Open Cloud. 

"Massachusetts Open Cloud will be a virtual laboratory to big data researchers and innovators in industry, academia, and government across the Commonwealth," said Patrick, as quoted by CIO. "It will be a forum to experiment across our silos with solutions to big problems."

Dell, Intel and Cisco are a couple of the companies that will support the project. Financial backing aside, they are anticipated to provide engineering and operational talent, equipment and business guidance as well. In regard to academia, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Northeastern University are just three out of the five institutions that are behind the initiative. 

The news source noted that Boston University lauded Open Cloud as unique in its customizable approach to the design and implementation of cloud servers. As opposed to a select few project participants spearheading the initiative, members will operate in a fashion similar to the round table - contributing ideas and techniques that can be dissected, interpreted and put into practice. 

How does it help the people? 
Although Massachusetts' financial support of Open Cloud will most likely help constituents in the long run, it will likely benefit consumers, rather than voters. As mainly private entities are partaking in the project, it may be private enterprises that observe the findings of Open Cloud and leverage them to develop and improve projects for customers. 

Nevertheless, Tamsin Rutter, a contributor to The Guardian, interviewed a number of IT professionals from around the world in order to receive their two cents about big data and how it is likely going to change public services.

One such specialist, Dell United Kingdom's Executive Director and General Manager of Public Sector Claire Vyvyan told Rutter that assembling all government data sources onto a single cloud infrastructure could help legislative and law enforcement organizations be more efficient, save money and detect fraudulent activity. 

Rutter also spoke with Ben Taylor, another professional who was funded by the U.K.'s Arts and Humanities Research Council to write a parliament research report of the effects social media and big data would have on police forces. 

"There are obvious win-win approaches, such as developing systems to use social media as early warning systems after a major disaster," Taylor told Rutter. "On the more questionable side, there is using social media data for intelligence gathering and surveillance."

Obviously, this is when privacy comes into question. Though many citizens - especially those living in the United States - are often prone to catching Big Brother syndrome, it should be recognized that even large organizations such as the National Security Agency have limited funds. Therefore, there's little to no chance that they're going to spend that money analyzing a Facebook photo of four underage college students drinking in a dorm room. 

Whether that's the case or not, there's no denying the fact that authorities on the state and local level will begin to use the technology. 

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