Big data offers real time information


Ahead of the opening of the UN Statistical Commission on Tuesday next week, a seminar on “Big Data for Policy, Development and Official Statistics” will be held in New York on 22 February. The event will take a closer look at the fundamental change to the nature of data caused by the arrival of the Internet, mobile devices and other technologies.

Big Data has important, distinct qualities that differentiate it from “traditional” institutional data, in particular its timeliness. If governments wanted to, they could already let Big Data play a role in providing information on topics that are currently under the purview of national statistical offices (NSOs).

Traditionally, data processing for analytic purposes followed a fairly static blueprint, with modest amounts of structured data created with stable data models, loaded into an enterprise data warehouse. Non-expert users could then perform basic data visualization and limited analytics via front-end business intelligence tools.

With recent developments, data are no longer centralized, highly structured and easily manageable, but are highly distributed, loosely structured and increasingly large in volume. The volume, type and the speed at which new data is created has thus changed and it is also generated by a range of sources, including mobile devices, Internet transactions, networked devices and sensors, social networking and media.

National Statistical Offices have started to explore how best to harness this phenomenon of Big Data in their mission to supply quality statistics for improving economic performance, social well-being and environmental sustainability. The attraction lies in the sheer amount of data which could be available in, or near, real time. Potentially, Big Data could be used as intelligence to better solve emergency situations and it also presents an opportunity for the official statistical community to better meet its mission of disseminating timely and quality statistics.

Should NSOs change their business operations to take on the opportunities of using Big Data for official government purposes? What will be the consequences of using Big Data for policy and development and how secure is a cloud environment for storing confidential data?

These and other questions will be addressed during this seminar gathering participants from national statistical offices, UN Global Pulse and OECD, and corporations including representatives from Google, Amazon Web Services, and SAS.

In order for Big Data to truly gain mainstream adoption and achieve its full potential for official statistical purposes, it is critical that the statistical community does not ignore Big Data, but recognizes the use of it as part of their information management model, prepares an inventory of the state of play and formulates the implications for official statistics.

For more information:
Big Data for Policy, Development and Official Statistics

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