How Big Data is Fixing Government

How Big Data is Fixing Government

In the midst of repeated news stories about government data collection and what data government entities should and should not be able to collect and access, there are a few facts that seem to be lost in the debate. The first is we give far more personal information via our technology devices to private companies such as Google and Apple, including the capability to track our location, our interests, our work activities, and our entertainment and shopping habits, then we give to the government. And while it is true that an unfettered government could potentially do more harm to our individual lives than could a private company, which is more likely, an inefficient government using our data to harm us, or the nearly guaranteed chance that we get bombarded by emails, texts, and phone calls trying to sell us who knows what all driven by our location data and our browsing and email activity? I know which one I am dealing with on a more frequent basis.

The second fact is that many governments out there are using significant data collection activities to generate positive outcomes. With this in mind, Cicero recently partnered with internet network technology giant Cisco Systems to identify some of the best examples of how government entities around the world are utilizing advanced internet technology to improve services, increase efficiency, address human needs, and reduce costs. This isn’t government data collection to harm people, but rather data-driven decision-making designed to better provide the services that people want and need. Think providing for the common defense and promoting the general welfare, types of services we have established governments to provide.

In Cisco’s parlance, the world is moving not just to the Internet of Things, but beyond, to the Internet of Everything. People and things are becoming connected in ways that not only improve data collection and decision making, but also create a system that can adjust in real time based on current dynamically shifting circumstances.

Wanting to see how government and other entities are utilizing IoT technologies, Cicero and Cisco together looked at over 40 public sector applications of the use of advanced network technologies in transportation, infrastructure, education, healthcare, and telecommunications. These applications all leveraged distributed sensors, data analysis, and communication networks to change the way our cities and governments operate. Study examples included government entities in both urban and rural settings, as well as in both developed and developing economies.

What we found is that data collection processes and technologies are improving service delivery, cost reductions, and time to service. In the case of developing economies, this data-driven technology even helped governments leapfrog certain traditional development stages and obstacles, allowing them to provide better healthcare and civic services at reduced costs.

The Study – Internet of Everything in the Public Sector

Much of the study results and examples have been published by Cisco on their Internet of Everything in the Public Sector website. Two of the most interesting applications of data collection and analysis deal with traffic management and water delivery and conservation.


In the United States, the states of Texas and Utah are transforming traffic management through interconnecting roadway and traffic light sensors to make better, automated decisions about traffic flows that account for real-time circumstances such as accidents or large public events. The City of San Antonio alone estimates that their efforts to improve traffic flow via a connected system saves $200 million annually in time and resources. Their system automatically collects data on vehicle locations, monitors and models traffic patterns, and makes dynamic decisions about signal light timing and other roadway adjustments to improve flow. In Utah, similar things are happening with the vast majority of traffic lights throughout the state interconnected into a dynamically adjusting system.

These results are seen outside the United States, as well. Germany’s port city of Hamburg has a system that factors in container ship and train traffic within the port area to help manage flows that fluctuate significantly throughout the day. Stockholm, Sweden collects data, including license plate information, to administer a congestion charging scheme that has significantly reduced traffic and pollution in the busy center of the city.


Hagihon, the municipal water authority in Jerusalem, has saved significant money by deploying a sophisticated monitoring network of sensors throughout their underground water pipe infrastructure. With automated analysis of water flow measurements reported by the sensors throughout the network, Hagihon engineers receive early notification of possible system leaks. This allows more rapid deployment of repair crews, reducing potential damage and water loss.

One not-for-profit group, Water for People, has leveraged network technologies to enhance data gathering for governments on water infrastructure projects in Latin America and Africa. By providing internet-based survey capabilities on a cell phone platform, Water for People has democratized the formerly difficult process of monitoring and assessing expensive, large-scale infrastructure development projects, bringing significant added political motivation to ensure project success and sustainability.

Other Applications

In Canada, China, and rural Virginia, government-funded doctors in urban areas have been at the forefront of utilizing internet connection technologies to allow them to treat patients in more remote locations. By leveraging internet-connected diagnostic tools to collect patient data, patients can receive specialized treatment and care previously only available to those travelling to large, level-one trauma centers. This technology has also been used to educate and train large numbers of doctors in rural and developing country settings.

In India, the Unique Identification Authority of India has achieved voluntarily enrollment of over 93% of Indian adults in a personal identification system that allows better disbursement of government payments, such as welfare and retirement payments, reducing vulnerability to fraud and other types of payment loss. The system involves the collection of personally identifying data as well as biometric data to ensure the right people receive the right payments. Interestingly, in recent news, an Indian Court ruled that data from the system could not be used in criminal investigation and prosecution, an example of the checks and balances within government functioning to limit data sharing and use.

The Benefits of Distributed Data Gathering

While these are just some of the 40 examples of how governments are leveraging technology to improve service delivery and reduce costs, our study identified a long list of benefits that governments and institutions are seeing as they implement more connected technologies. These benefits include eliminating organizational silos, spurring innovation, and promoting government transparency, among others.

In this vein, as additional data is gathered, many governments are finding that the sharing of the data is helping to ensure continued improvement and cross collaboration. And while the general public is perhaps frightened by expansion of governments’ data gathering capabilities, at least in these circumstances the data gathering is actually resulting in a more democratic and open approach to government by increasing accountability and clarifying a focus on results. Cities like Seattle and Chicago have even developed public-facing open data portals and app development ecosystems to encourage information sharing and service extension beyond what the government can provide.

Doing it Right

For those looking to better understand how governments and institutions can develop their own advanced sensor networks, the study detailed at the website above provides insights on how many cities across the world have leveraged pilot projects and existing network infrastructure to develop public-private partnerships. The study also explores best practices in the development of data-sharing apps and processes that incorporate analytics capabilities into physical deployment systems. Automated analytics is what makes these vast deployments scalable and capable of acting in real time.

There is no question that connection technologies are changing the way we do business, but they are also changing the way we do government. For the public sector, the benefits are amplified as government entities address wide-scale challenges and opportunities spanning large geographical areas and populations. Such technology is making governments more capable and efficient, while also improving the availability of information and service accountability. While it may not solve all ills, the internet of today is providing solutions for many of the challenges—private and public—of tomorrow.

Chad Berbert


Chad has expertise in serving the needs of international, public sector, technology, and healthcare clients of Cicero Group. He previously served as a U.S. Diplomat, working on trade, security, and economic development initiatives. He is a Lauder Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania and serves on the Board of Trustees for the Utah Council for Citizen Diplomacy.

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