Consumers. Kids. Researchers. Academics. Parents. Grandparents. Every member of society craves information that is clear and accessible. The internet and connectivity, coupled with backend data storage systems, have made this utopian notion a reality. With a web browser and an internet connection, people are now able to access information that is increasingly relevant, personalized and current.
Government websites and portals provide access to vast amounts of information for the consumption and convenience of their constituents. Therein lies the conundrum – how to provide the maximum amount of value through content and service access without overwhelming users. Sifting through high volumes of information is a daunting prospect when you have neither the time nor the skills to conduct an in-depth search of the website or database. People’s options then, are to visit a physical location, or contact a call center and wait in line for information which is
often an inconvenience.
Take, for example, seniors using websites. The Public Health Agency of Canada, in their report “Age-Friendly Communication: Facts, Tips and Ideas,” state that seniors, who currently make up 13 percent of the population (and in 2036 will make up a quarter of the population), find websites frustrating to use due to the number of drop-down menus and navigational guides that they are presented with. By the same token, it may be difficult for them to travel to physical locations or they may have trouble hearing information agents on the telephone. This is an example of just one group who could easily be left feeling disenfranchised. Along comes Big Data, ready to save the day.
The success of any information retrieval system, be it a library catalogue, electronic document and records management system, website or other, is dependent on the level of effort required from a user to find the right information. In information management, the good practitioners are constantly striving to carve out the easiest paths to information. This involves the analysis of how meaning is represented by words, linking variant forms of words to an appropriate contextual setting to technically mimic human interpretation. The term “user experience” is well- entrenched in electronic service and system delivery, which is essentially analysing the information needs, methods, behaviours and tools used by system users in order to design interfaces that make navigation and layout as intuitive as possible. Big data analytics introduces the next level of maturation into the mix; pragmatic knowledge.
Boiled down to its simplest terms, big data analytics is the high speed analysis of colossal amounts of internal and external data, which is both structured and unstructured in format. It is the linking of different data sets and the incorporation of unstructured information such as documents, e-mails, spreadsheets and images along with structured information (typically held in databases), which, when done correctly, provides an unprecedented, holistic view of the storyline, case, file or user.
Big data analytics provides organizations with a higher level of insight into their users so that they can more accurately predict their information needs. The early adopters of this technology have been exploiting big data analytics to gain competitive advantage, which in the commercial sector is the very means of survival. Giant online retailers such as Amazon and Target have been utilizing this technology to examine a user’s past purchases and interests and make suggestions and recommendations for potential purchases based on this information. This allows them to tailor their offering to each individual customer, profiling users in collectives and individually (called cross-cutting of data elements) in attempts to offer products that resonate with their “type”. This type of insight into user behaviour is sometimes chastised under privacy concerns, so must be appropriately aligned with a true user value proposition.
Government online products, services and information are beginning to realize the true import of big data, especially as pressure mounts for open data and increased online services from their stakeholders. What has become increasingly apparent is that “build it and they will come” has been supplanted with “build it well and they will come back”.
Big data analytics provides organizations with the tools to enhance the ‘findability’ of information, suggesting and modifying content offerings semantically through relationships, user history, demographic profiling and smart taxonomies. When looking for opportunities to apply big data principles within the public sector, the list of possibilities is endless. A government who wishes to be connected to its citizens should be looking at big data in order to provide access to its information and services in a manner that is painless and intuitive. Just wait until we uncover the merits of Open Data…