State legislatures increasingly are using big data in new ways to develop more effective policy. Nineteen states now have chief data officers whose main job is to create data-driven solutions for a range of issues from criminal justice to natural disaster mitigation and response.
Big data is precisely what it sounds like: huge collections of information. The amount stored worldwide rose from three zettabytes in 2012 to 16 zettabytes in 2016. By 2025, it's expected that we will have collected 163 zettabytes of data. How much is that? A lot. One zettabyte equals 1 billion terabytes or 931,322,574,615.48 gigabytes. Put another way, it's the equivalent of "250 billion DVDs, 36 million years of HD video or the volume of the Great Wall of China, if you allow an 11-ounce cup of coffee to represent a gigabyte of data," according to the tech website engadget.
These data collections are so vast that traditional data analysis no longer works. The valuable patterns and useful information that lie within the collections, however, can be studied by using predictive analytics software.
Five state agencies in Massachusetts, for example, analyzed their combined data to find patterns that might help in the fight against opioid deaths. Analysts found that most opioid-related deaths resulted from illegally obtained drugs, and that people recently released from prison were 56 times more likely to die of an overdose than others. As a result, alerts were added to the prescription monitoring system, and the Department of Public Health now works directly with the Department of Corrections on prison release procedures.
Big data is also big businesss. To encourage the development of the industry, some states offer tax incentives. In 2013, lawmakers in Arizona and Illinois passed bills exempting data center equipment from sales taxes. Texas lawmakers eliminated most of the sales tax on new data centers larger than 100,000 square feet and in which at least $200 million is invested.