Big data failing expectations in public sector

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Big data has been a mantra for many years in India’s private sector. But in the public sector, the impact has been underwhelming, finds a study of two government corporations that use big data systems. Changes have been small in scale, not transformative as many expected.

Also, power has shifted from the middle management to all-seeing, all-knowing head offices, and to private companies that handle the nitty-gritty of these big data systems.

One company that the study’s authors, led by Richard Heeks of University of Manchester, look at is the Bengaluru Metropolitan Transport Corporation (BMTC), which runs the buses in Bengaluru. The second is an unnamed state-owned electricity generation and distribution company with 15 million customers. The authors interviewed senior, mid-level and operational staff in both organizations for their study.

One change that the data systems enabled in BMTC is vehicle tracking, which tells the control room when buses skip stops or deviate from routes. The staff can then directly contact the concerned bus to resolve the issue. But there has been limited use of big data for achieving larger organizational goals of improving revenues and service reliability.

At the power company, big data resulted in the mid-level management losing the authority to a central finance and energy management unit with access to all data and analytics. The unit holds monthly meetings with zonal and division managers, forging direct relationships with them and bypassing their immediate superiors.

Another shift of power has been to private companies, which get the responsibility to manage operation, maintenance and analytics of big data systems for public sector firms. Government staff were unhappy about how much they relied on private companies. The authors recommend that government corporations develop in-house capability instead to analyze big data.

Also read: “Datafication, value and power in developing countries: Big data in two Indian public service organizations”

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