Sep 05 2019

How Agencies Can Get the Most Value Out of Their Data

Agencies can and should break down internal silos to share data and generate insights that help their missions.

The federal government is awash in data. But can agencies effectively use all of the data they collect to improve their missions and services for citizens? 

Agencies that effectively use and share all of the data they collect — both inside the agency itself and with other agencies — can unlock innovations. Today, agencies have vast programmatic, operational and external data. If integrated and leveraged correctly, this data can generate insight and wisdom that could drive efficiencies and effectiveness in achieving outcomes aligned to agencies’ priorities and mission.

For example, a critical mission of the National Institutes of Health is “storing, managing, standardizing and publishing the vast amounts of data produced by biomedical research,” as the agency notes. NIH is striving toward empowering its mission stakeholders to leverage the vast amount of data from several sources to ensure citizens benefit from the best healthcare possible and enrich human lives.

The NIH Strategic Plan for Data Science says the agency will “continue to leverage its roles as an influential convener and major funding agency to encourage rapid, open sharing of data and greater harmonization of scientific efforts.” The goal is to “enhance the scientific community’s ability to address new challenges in accessing, managing, analyzing, integrating, and making reusable the huge amounts of data being generated by the biomedical research ecosystem.”

NIH’s stance is admirable and should be the standard that all agencies follow. By breaking down silos and sharing data more freely via cloud computing resources, agencies can tap advanced analytics tools to gain deeper insights faster. That can lead to better mission outcomes, improved services and potentially even scientific breakthroughs that save lives.

The recently released Federal Data Strategy calls for agencies to connect data functions and establish “communities of practice for common agency data functions (e.g. data management, access, analytics, informatics, and user support) to promote efficiency, collaboration, and coordination.”

MORE FROM FEDTECH: See how HHS has embraced Big Data to help battle the opioid crisis. 

How Agencies Can Combine and Analyze Data

Agencies collect and store a lot of data. That includes mission, program and business data. Agencies also have vast stores of IT data. 

The real magic happens when agencies are able to combine the different elements of data sources to tell a complete story. Departments within agencies that collect mission data, such as program offices, typically don’t communicate with operations departments that collect IT data. 

Cloud tools, especially those that support the creation of data lakes, can allow data sources to reside in one place. A key benefit of a data lake is that it can ingest any type of data. The data lake then creates a mechanism for agencies to add metadata around the data so that it can be tagged and easily searched by any user who has secure and proper access to the data lake. “This allows people the opportunity to drive those deeper insights,” Cameron Chehreh, CTO and vice president of Dell EMC Federal, previously told FedTech.

With the right analytics tools, agency officials can generate fresh insights from more than one data source. Some of those tools include those from Splunk and data management and analytics services within AWS and Microsoft Azure. Combined with machine learning — and the computing horsepower needed to drive those algorithms — agencies can generate all kinds of insights from large reams of data. Another benefit of a defined data management plan combined with cloud-based data management tools are the on-demand capabilities to achieve outcomes in a cost effective manner.

“We’re seeing a number of new analytical tools out there that make it easier to build customer reports on the fly,” Elliott Black, director of the FAA’s Office of Airport Planning and Programming, previously told FedTech. “This could reduce the workload for our people and enable them to spend more time doing the substantive analyses we need to do.”

Data does not have to be an albatross for federal agencies. It can actually be a wonderful tool if IT leaders are able to share data effectively and analyze it with precision.

This article is part of FedTech's CapITal blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #FedIT hashtag.

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