Creating a Single Source of Data Truth After COVID-19

There has never been a more important time for data collaboration and a single source of truth.

In a data-siloed world, an organization can operate only according to the data it has. It’s a small, limiting world that forces organizations to operate in their own reality, because they cannot access the needed data for complex decision-making that lies beyond their boundaries.

Without collaborative data practices, for instance, federal organizations such as the General Services Administration (GSA) are not able to effectively coordinate with state and local counterparts to address surging coronavirus cases, shortages in personal protective equipment (PPE) and crowded hospitals.

At GovLoop’s virtual summit “Gov’s Top Trends 2021: How Tech & Management Support Mission Critical Work,” two experts spoke about the state of a single source of truth in government.

How COVID-19 Accelerated Data Sharing

According to Nick Speece, Chief Federal Technology Officer at Snowflake, the pandemic accelerated a kind of data collaboration that folks across federal, state and local government dreamed about for a long time. Speece said:

“It’s a complete page turn. We talked a lot in the government space about data collaboration, data sharing — not just between federal agencies but…state and local. It’s always been on people’s spreadsheets. It’s on our slide decks [saying] that it’s going to happen any day now; we have some great initiatives to make it happen. But there had to be a compelling event. I hate to try to find a silver lining in a pandemic; that’s a terrible thing to look for. But, being an optimist, if we look for one, we see that it really was a catalyst for states like California, New York and Florida to get a good infrastructure in place, not just to understand what’s going on in their state, but to also share their case data, PPE counts, ICU bed [availability] with the federal government to help coordinate across states to solve [PPE] shortages and rearrange ICU beds. …

[I give] credit to everybody in the CDO organization across states and federal organizations, because they rose to the challenge, and have built architectures we’d been hoping for for decades. We’ve seen it come to life for the first time in the last 12 months.”

Unlocking Innovation

With data collaboration and less silos, government employees can start asking and answering questions that spark creativity and add value to the mission. That’s what Crystal Philcox, Assistant Commissioner for Enterprise Strategy Management at GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service, highlighted:

“What I’ve found in my time in government is that there is so much innovation in agencies that is locked up in hierarchy or silos. When you’re organizing data and organizing processes around that data that allows people to access and see it, you’re helping unlock innovation.

Some agencies may get a little concerned about lots of innovation happening all over the place, but if you’re creating the right governance…and the right environment that focuses on enterprise value…you can have all that innovation feed into enterprise value. That’s the culture shift we’re looking for. Once folks start to understand the data that’s out there and available, that’s what creates possibilities in their minds.”

The Biggest Hurdles Now

What is getting in the way of achieving this kind of vision — a single source of truth that unlocks innovation? According to Speece, it’s policies.

“I always talk about three things: people, policy and pipes. Those are what block us from real collaboration and empowerment. [When it comes to] the people side, I think the CDO council [and] the work that the [Federal] Data Strategy is doing and organizations led by folks like Crystal are doing a phenomenal job taking down people as a stopper. I think we’re doing a good job on the tools or pipes part, getting the right cloud technologies and IT technologies in front of the right people at the right time to solve the right problems.

Where I think we’re lagging a little bit…is the policy side. People have to be empowered by policy. The policy needs to be that the IT’s default answer is yes, and they have to figure out why they can’t provide that service or data. The people need to understand the challenges of IT and how those systems are designed, at least in a very high level, so they can speak better to the constraints and…get new data to solve those constraints.”

To this end, GSA is looking to remove policies as obstacles to facilitate federal acquisition practices. Philcox said:

“[In] the federal marketplace strategy that we are working on right now, we have a policy segment. We’re really trying to marry the policy with the technology that’s available, with the people that we have. We’re looking at new policies that are going to allow acquisition to be much easier, for example. And we’re hoping that does create an enabling effect.”

Check out other recaps from today’s virtual summit here, and make sure to register for other upcoming GovLoop online trainings.

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