TopFem@Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations

Every month we'll be posting a summary of research that has been done by TopFem members as part of the Leadership Programme (formerly known as the Talent Programme). This month the summary research is done by Anna Dekker, who conducted research at the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom Relations and was named Talent of the Year 2015.

Almost a year ago, when I heard that I would be participating in a research project on Big Data at the Ministry of the Interior and Kingdom relations, I did not have a clear idea of what Big Data entailed. As soon as I delved into the literature on this phenomenon, however, Big Data appeared suddenly everywhere around me on the internet, in newspapers and advertisements.  Big Data became a trending topic in 2015, and this made me and many others question what the use of Big Data actually is.

Before elaborating on my own research, it may therefore be useful to clarify what Big Data is. Big Data usually represents data sets that are too big to be managed by normal analysis programmes, and whose contents are often subject to change (think about trying to analyse the content of one day’s Twitter tweets). As such, Big Data is often characterized by the 5 V’s; volume (referring to its large size), velocity (the change aspect), variety (diversity in terms of the structure of the information), veracity (trustworthiness of the information that can be deduced from the data) and value. The last aspect, value, has a very peculiar characteristic. In Big Data analyses, it is often unknown beforehand what can be learnt from the data, whereas interesting patterns may be detected which one had not previously thought about.   

For my research, I examined in a team how Big Data analyses can be used for managing purchasing information within the government and thereby optimizing the procurement policy. Big Data was initially expected to be applicable in a limited manner, regarding the diverse practical and juridical aspects that come into play (for example, what information may be aggregated and combined about companies to be contracted etc.). The research was designed based on the diverse needs that existed within the procurement community of the government, and consisted of several projects that aimed at answering these needs. Each project had its own character, thereby connecting to the different types of applications that Big Data has. So far, the conclusion of this research has been that Big Data is of limited applicability for managing purchasing information, since it is not yet clear how Big Data can be fit into the legal frameworks (as it is a relatively new analysis method, there is not much regulation about it) and as it is quite unknown how the projects work out in practice. This conclusion is subject to change, however, as the projects are currently carried on further, though it is clear that data driven policy will be of growing relevance for managing purchasing information as it can yield useful insights for strategic management.

For me, this research has meant a big development in several ways; I have deepened my communication and writing skills in a manner applicable to the Ministry, as I had to write concluding reports after every meeting, but I also experienced how a governmental organisation is structured and how it functions. Contrary to common belief I learnt that governmental departments are actively seeking opportunities to innovate and optimize current processes. It is often not realised what a difficult position the government is in, as it can neither afford to make any mistakes  nor actively consult a market party before a certain acquisition, as everything must go according to strict fair and equal opportunity based tender procedures. Besides my own research, the group trainings were also valuable to me, as these regularly touched on topics that are not necessarily discussed at university, whereas these topics are useful to gain experience about (such as networking and group dynamics).