Having seen the potential to enhance service while reducing costs, the public sector is taking a lead role in data analytics, an official at San Francisco-based big data company Splunk told Government Technology.
In August 2013, Splunk CIO Doug Harr advised agency heads to “look at your data sources and figure out what data is likely to have real meaning,” rather than simply storing information away with the intent to someday make use of it.
Now agencies are increasingly doing things with their data, at least where Splunk — whose name derives from the concepts of spelunking, or cave exploration, and mining valuable information — is concerned.
The company, which offers ways to capture and analyze machine data generated everywhere from sensors and mobile devices to networks and websites, set out to make change happen. Roughly three years ago, it created a public-sector team to focus on solutions for state and local governments.
Today, Splunk works with 40 out 50 states, plus an unknown number of local governments, like Fairfax County, Va., which is leveraging it in the cloud, and Los Angeles.
Then there's the state of Louisiana, which recently went live with a Splunk solution in what’s believed to be an entirely new application — creating a revenue-generating engine that should compound its $75 million savings already realized by consolidation.
Only 10 states presumably lack some form of Splunk solution, but the company’s Vice President of Public Sector Kevin Davis told Government Technology that the company expects its government business to expand even further as the smart cities movement takes hold and new applications for its technology become evident.
“'The art of the possible,’ we like to call it. It’s exciting because I’ve worked in the industry 20-plus years. We’re at the first time where I’m really seeing public sector leading the way on some of these things,” Davis said.
“I think we’ve just started to scratch the surface on the total addressable market for Splunk. We’ve got aging workforces, we’ve got more automation, so I think the machine learning is shortly behind that,” he added, noting that Internet of Things (IoT) opportunities may also be among the newest trends.
Splunk, which also works with larger private-sector companies and smaller entities with innovations in security and virtualization, has clients across all levels of government and K-12 education, Davis said, because agencies share a common problem: They’ve generated a “mountain of machine data” and need to view it through “that single pane of glass” to unify disparate data in one view.
Public-sector clients also tend to share a common progression, the company vice president said — crawling before they can walk or run.
“I think this is a new paradigm for everybody. I think it’s a ‘start small,’ start with a use case and grow from there to really being a solution, and then we see it become a platform for these customers,” Davis said.
As a Splunk client, Los Angeles uses a Security Information Event Management solution to aggregate system logs from four security operations centers into one platform. The city now manages about 1 billion security records a day.
It also uses Splunk for Critical Access Protection to determine how many attempts or attacks may zero in on critical infrastructure or assets, Chief Information Security Officer Tim Lee recently told Government Technology.
Los Angeles CIO Ted Ross said in July that even though technologies are changing rapidly and residents’ expectations are rising quickly — partially driven by private-sector interactions — efficiencies are “multifold.”
“We feel that involving yourself in mobile and data analysis and cloud, it doesn’t just provide organizational benefits, it provides cultural benefits and it gives us a much broader tool kit,” Ross said. “It’s exciting opportunities, it’s exciting methods to multiply the effectiveness of our people, to deliver new innovative service opportunities.”
Davis mentioned the idea of broadening applications from a single use case twice, highlighting the money-saving possibilities: “Once you’ve indexed this data first, why not ask different questions of it?”
The significance of identifying high-value use cases also resonated with Atlanta CIO Samir Saini who said recently it’s crucial to implementing effective IoT solutions.
“I think that’s a challenge for cities and for private or public sector: Don’t call it an IoT project. Don’t think about IoT. Think about what the problem you’re trying to solve is,” he said.
But the Splunk vice president also cautioned agencies to think beyond that single, easily-activated use case, and have other applications for their technology ready should the first one be successful.
“We’ve talked about, ‘Let’s focus on the use case,’ but have a plan to grow into the platform," Davis said, "because that’s where you get the real return on investment."