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Finding Data Catalogs Drive Agency Missions

Throughout the day, each of us makes decisions based on available data. And while some of those choices have little consequence, others are significant. Think about all the precise, real-time data the U.S. needs to logistically support today’s military, for instance, or to respond quickly after a natural disaster.

“The challenging thing about data [is] it grows exponentially,” said Scott Woestman Vice President of Sales, U.S. Public Sector, with Alation, a data intelligence firm. “However, more data provides more opportunities for agencies and programs to solve mission-critical problems that impact all of us as citizens.”

Agencies deprived of strong, plentiful information can struggle with employee hiring and retention, logistical support of core initiatives, and improper financial payments, he said.

In fact, according to one estimate per the Government Accountability Office, the federal government made nearly $281 billion in erroneous payments in fiscal 2021 that it cannot retrieve. That’s a “remarkable amount that’s not even due to fraud,” Woestman observed. “More often than not, it’s due to bad data.” High-pressure working conditions only compound the problem.

“Government employees, just like a lot of corporate employees, are overworked,” he said. “They’ve got to make quick decisions, and they don’t often have the best actionable data to work with, and mistakes get made.”

Catalog It

Now, imagine if employees had a solution to support data-driven decision-making that combined the features of Amazon.com with the Dewey Decimal system. That’s how Woestman describes a data catalog. Using ML, it creates and maintains an enterprisewide inventory of trusted data that people across an agency can search, access and use to collaborate, rather than relying on decentralized data sources.

Gartner calls data catalogs “the new black in data management and analytics” and says they are fast becoming a must-have tool. According to Woestman, they strengthen operational intelligence so government can respond when, where, and how it needs to.

In Practice

For instance, during the pandemic, Alation partnered with a federal health care agency to develop an enterprise data catalog that facilitated sharing information across their siloed centers. This enabled the agency to help save lives during the pandemic and, in the future, use key data for other lifesaving programs. The agency had tons of data, but it needed Alation’s guidance to identify the most actionable, useful information, Woestman said.

Employees looking for a catalog solution have a simple case to make for adopting one, he said: Data catalogs will help them work better and faster and make their agency more effective.

Governing Well

People often are less enthusiastic about another key element of data strategy: governance. Just ask chief data officers who broach the subject with their employees, Woestman said. To make governance part of the workforce culture, he suggests getting employee buy-in early on. “Data governance doesn’t have to be punitive,” he offered. “We can empower [people], and we can help them collaborate and drive results to build their own governance paths…. You’ve got to start with the employees.”

This article appears in our guide, “Decision Intelligence: New Possibilities for Data-Based Decision-Making.” For more about how agencies are using data in practical ways, download the guide here:


Image by Yan Wong from Pixabay 

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