Sharing Is Caring With Data

One of the most basic lessons you learn in kindergarten is the value of sharing. It makes you allies on the playground, and keeps you in your teachers’ good graces. But, it also makes the world a friendlier and more efficient place.

In government as in kindergarten, sharing is caring. On January 8, 2015, the Association of Government Accountants came together for the Federal Financial Systems Summit at the Convention Center here in Washington, D.C. The event brought together financial experts on the Data Act to share knowledge on just that – sharing knowledge. Carlos Otal, Managing Partner of Grant Thornton’s Global Public Sector Services and Solutions, spoke with Christopher Dorobek, host of the podcast DorobekINSIDER, on the requirements of government agencies to collect and share their data.

So, how does sharing data help the government do its job better? Since the passing of the Data Act, federal agencies now must collect their financial data for purposes of transparency and fiscal responsibility. But there’s more to it than just transparency.

Quantifiable data points help leaders make key decisions, and back up those decisions, according to Otal. “This is about better management information, not just transparency to the taxpayer and to oversight bodies such as Congress,” he said. “It is also about better decision making. There was discussion about evidence-based budgeting. As budgets get tighter and tighter, the question is, from a Moneyball perspective, where do we place our bets and why?”

However, collecting data in order to make sound decisions costs agencies time and money. According to Otal, many agencies are still formulating their plan on how to go about collecting their data. “As things get worked out and lessons are learned, we get a better sense of what we can do and where we can go,” said Otal.

The means of data collection will also be a way for agencies to share, as they will use shared service centers and providers to collect their data. According to Otal, shared services are already being implemented for certain purposes such as payroll and general human resources tasks.

However, many federal workers are skeptical about the viability of shared service providers for data collection, according to Otal. Some people think that their specific agency is unique and should not be addressed by a massive, generalizing service. However, Otal stresses that more often then not, that’s not the case.

“[Some agencies] are unique enough that it warrants going to a shared service provider,” shared Otal. “But I think in 80-90% of the cases, we’re going to find that uniqueness can be addressed by a shared service provider.”

One distinction that Otal wanted to draw attention to was the use of multiple shared service providers to collect financial data to capture the best quality service from each, based upon their own expertise. “There’s probably going to be some decoupling, and you might go to one shared service provider for your core financials, and another for your grants,” he explained. “But there really isn’t anything wrong with that.”

Otal left listeners with one big benefit for agencies in sharing – government innovation advancement. When the government is willing to share data, as well as the means by which to collect this data, it is more able to think creatively and to innovatively use technological services, which is the direction in which it is trying to move.

After all, the government, like a good kindergartner, is just trying to be creative and think outside the box.

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