Big Data Can Help Transform Governance and Society for the Better

By Hasham Zafar

Big Data has easily become the most sought-after commodity in the Information Technology landscape. Even with giants like Google, Microsoft, Apple and Facebook ruling over most of our digital lives, the true power and potential of Big Data still remains unexplored.

For many of us, big data seems an elusive concept. We remain unaware of its benefits, which is why it is as good a time as any to understand what it is and what it means for everyone.

Big Data is Everywhere

After having a few sessions with some experts in this industry and amongst Silicon Valley gurus, one thing is clear. Big Data is doing its magic. It touches almost every other person who is living in this society and using any kind of technology, even though it may just be something as basic as someone just watching the television.

While Telecom companies have been making use of big data in one way or another in order to launch their marketing campaigns, helping them tailor it based on the location or the opportunity that they have, we are yet to see it get used extensively in sectors such as banking and media here in Pakistan.

Even the government sector isn’t making good use of it. If only they could realize how critical and powerful it is when it comes to ensuring transparent and judicious governance.

This is slowly but surely changing.

Big Data in Pakistani Government Sector

Focusing on the government sector, the Punjab Government is hoping to use Big Data where it can make the most difference. It is being used in the case of the Punjab Police, however, there’s a lot of development required to make big data work for the local law enforcement authorities here.

Experts are confident that if the government uses Big Data in a proactive manner, public dissatisfaction levels regarding government can come down by 25%. To realize this objective, the government needs to devise the policies and budgets in line with the requirements of its citizens, rather than just the PC1s powered by the wish list of vendors or based on adhoc requirements.

This can only be made possible if sufficient data is available when it comes to the citizens’ well-being and their relation to governance practices.

“When you connect all possible data sources, may it be structured, semi-structured or un-structured, and use it as a real feedback of the society, performance monitoring of your systems and human resources, and correlating them with real problems, then you don’t need any advice. It will become evident to you what is required by the citizens”.

A simple example may be the disbursement of Bait-ul-Maal funds, medical insurance schemes, or even school fee reimbursement, all of that could be observed by big data and what it means for the public well-being.

You can even design your media policy based on this system, rather than relying on the paid mechanism that has traditionally relied on the ratings system employed and influenced by TV channels.

I can go on and on. Disaster Management is an area where Big Data can play a major role in predicting disasters before they strike. It can also help predict industry growth, response time of government services and so on.

Security is one area where the government is already moving ahead by making use of big data.

Big Data and Bots: Bringing the Benefits to the Masses

Currently, big data is trending thanks to the popularity of automated bots. Going into automated bots is a topic that I’d like to revisit at another time.

For now, I’ll say this. Bots are serving as front end tool of Big Data systems. They are only as good as the big data solution you are using for your bank or telecom company. In fact, they may just usher in the next big revolution in the fintech industry (f they haven’t already that is!).

The basic idea behind a bot is to serve the customer. In the government’s case, bots powered by artificial intelligence…can you imagine the possibilities?

Think of all those information counters that you see in government offices, only with bots you might not need to wait for your turn till eternity. Or when it comes to paying bills or disbursing funds, all of it can be done with the help of AI-powered bots that make use of big data the way it’s meant to be. The AI can take split second decisions that government bureaucrats take ages to arrive at and so on.

Imagine this. A Mobile App for monitoring dengue outbreaks, automatically starts talking to its operator and tells them of previous cases in the country. Case in point – last year on August 13, it rained in Sahiwal and we had 5 cases of Dengue; the app could automatically tell the operator to plan a visit to the same site and see their arrangements.

Now this is a case of Predictive Analysis (Big Data Solution) and it can directly affect the social services offered by the government for the better.

The possibilities are endless!

What we need to do is start considering ‘data’ as an asset. Like every asset has its repository, we can start by making a centralized or provincial repository of Data. And if we placed a Chief Data Officer for every provincial data repository, let me tell you guys, this will be nothing short of a revolution in this country.

One can only hope that the guys in charge are listening and wake up to the benefits of using big data in every sector imaginable.

Hasham Zafar is the Director of HyperNym FZ LLC. He tweets at @HashamZafar


  • renegade

    What exactly is big data? I am certain hardly anybody knows with precision just like nobody really knows the definition of actuarial sciences. Thats why people tend to shove everything with AI under the rug of big data as if it were not there in past. For instance, what do chat bots or customer service AI based reps have to do with big data?
    In the same way, at least locally, people know squat about cloud computing. I have asked many how exactly does it differ from client/server architecture of web world from old days? I saw blank faces but no answers.