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Florida ROADS Project Wrangles Big Data for Future Advantage

The Reliable, Organized, Accurate Data Sharing project will help the Florida Department of Transportation effectively process, manage and utilize the growing amount of data coming into its systems from districts across the state.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — The joke goes that government agencies are often victims of their own successes when it comes to data collection. The punchline is that they are seldom in a position to use it to any effect.

But in Florida, the Department of Transportation is working to get ahead of what they see as a technological tidal wave of data borne out of daily operations, sensor-equipped roadways and the impending onslaught of the autonomous vehicle.

The ongoing project is called the Reliable, Organized, Accurate Data Sharing project, or ROADS.

During a session on managing and planning for big data at the Florida Digital Government Summit Thursday, May 12, department CIO April Blackburn said the agency is working to position itself to effectively process, manage and utilize the growing amount of data coming into its systems from districts across the state.

"Dealing with data," she said, "we found that data really was the common denominator to talk to our agency and our business about some of these initiatives from a technology perspective and the other things we needed to address."

Without the right tools and procedures in place to take the data from its raw form and turn it into actionable intelligence, Blackburn said the department would run the risk of losing out on valuable operational insights. As a result, the data effort has been firmly affixed within the department’s strategic plan.

To some degree, the state transportation agency is already using data to the benefit of its constituents. Through a partnership with the mapping application WAZE, the state provides updates, like planned road closures and potential delays.

But as many in the state and local IT space have discovered, data often takes a fair amount of curation before it becomes the useful intelligence sought by agencies and citizens.

“Our challenge: We do not have a unified approach to how information across our enterprise is managed,” Blackburn said, adding that this challenge was identified early on in the project as the team moved toward identifying where data is stored and how it is governed, and developing the standards for how it would be handled from a policy standpoint.

Matt Lawson with data storage company NetApp sees that the increasing volume of data poses both great potential and challenges for the organizations looking to transform the “noise” into something useful.

From crime mapping and prediction to acutely targeted marketing and fast food service, Lawson said there is substantial potential for the application of organized data.

He cites that 90 percent of data was created in the last two years, and roughly 80 percent of it is unstructured, or effectively raw.

“Big data is about scale; analytics is about knowledge,” he said. “Our data sets are getting so large that we are breaking the scale.”

The ability, or inability for some, to scale to meet incoming data requirements poses a potentially  expensive problem.

Veritas’ Phil Yaccino agrees. While organizations, like the Florida DOT, have a tendency to hoard data without really knowing it, the data itself can lose value while incurring significant costs for the owners.

Yaccino said it is important to identify what is being kept, where it is and whether the dark data, or unidentified data that may have been retained without a specific purpose, will serve a purpose in the future.

Within the transportation agency’s effort, Blackburn said more than 60 gaps were identified and are being closed across the agency. She said she hopes the project will become an agency-wide policy by 2017.