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Got Data? Now You Need a Plan

There’s a popular saying that “numbers never lie.” It has a nice ring to it, but in reality, the adage requires that the numbers share a common language – and many times they don’t.

While governments are replete with data, much of the information exists in a nebulous cloud of numbers. A lack of standardization in coding and data entry makes sifting out a story from spreadsheets nearly impossible, because differences in data entry can complicate an otherwise straightforward task.

Facing a deluge of data, governments are trying to turn the tide. By fostering a data culture and communicating business value, data officers are proving the rewards of managing data – and warning of the risks of ignorance.

At GovLoop’s “Are You Asking the Right Data Management Questions?” online training, government and industry leaders shared their insights for formulating a data management strategy. Establishing a data culture is crucial, they agreed, but while the culture can be built from the ground up, it needs support from the top-down.

“One way to start the conversation is for IT to bring up the conversation and explain it in terms that leadership can understand,” Jonathan Alboum, Public Sector Chief Technology Officer for Veritas Technologies, said. “And leaders understand costs. They understand risks.”

Alboum stated that he’s seen successful organizations build data governance committees, which can convert a data culture into a data policy. The President’s Management Agenda reflected the same priorities.

The first step for organizations is understanding the data already in their possession. Within those datasets, government leaders can build trust in data management and then begin to look into policy and security implications.

“Build the trustworthiness, and then you can start to overlay the tools,” Kurt Steege, Chief Technology Officer for Thundercat Technology, said.

By building a culture and governance body, data officers can then communicate the shared business value of big data. Brian Brotsos, Chief Data Officer of the Federal Highway Administration, said that his office had worked hard to develop its data culture and earn the support of leadership.

“You have to speak the language of the business and understand what the problems and needs are,” Brotsos said.

Last Friday, a data breach struck the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), risking the personal information of 75,000 people on healthcare.gov. Similar worries of cybersecurity have forced data governance bodies to reconsider security every step of the way.

Brotsos said that the next step for his team could be establishing a data-response team – think a SWAT operation for data problems.

“On the security side, if you leave it to the end, it’s never going to get done,” Steege said.

When data governance is applied correctly, it has the potential to serve government’s missions. While inaccurate data reports or data breaches can estrange citizens from government.

“Data is a great way to restore trust in government because it creates transparency when citizens see your decisions are based on good data,” Alboum said.

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