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Leveraging Web Services for Smarter, Faster Data Analysis

With new technologies and measurement tools, government agencies are increasingly collecting and analyzing massive amounts of information to drive organizational decisions. The government has traditionally been able to store and utilize data on an ad-hoc basis (e.g. for specific missions or projects), but can run into problems with securing sensitive data and fully integrating data sets across different departments.

However, there are numerous, emerging data analytics solutions for the public sector. Platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS) are transforming the way government thinks about storage, integration, cybersecurity and analytics, and are helping agencies overcome common data challenges.

For yesterday’s online training, “Big Data x Speed x Analytics = Dynamic Innovation,” GovLoop spoke with Frank Konieczny, Chief Technology Officer, Office of Information Dominance and Chief Information Officer for the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force, and Dave Vennergrund, Data and Analytics Service Area Director at CSRA to discuss how different agencies are applying data analytics to drive innovation efforts and make better decisions.

Agencies have long-depended on “stand-alone solutions, which consume and produce a lot of stove-piped data,” said Vennergrund. They also run into the problem of exponentially growing amounts of data combined with a flat federal budget for IT. “The number of agency staff with skills to collect, manage, integrate and analyze data is not growing. They’re having to do more with less,” he explained.

But utilizing hosting platforms like AWS can “allow agencies to focus on innovation, instead of costly maintenance and infrastructure management. Today’s analytics workforce can leverage rapidly growing data assets without having to add staff.”

Konieczny provided examples of how the Air Force collects data and aims to achieve predictive analysis. Some agency questions, for example, might include figuring out the cost distribution per flying hour per aircraft, calculating the optimal thickness of aircraft paint to minimize the amount of fuel required but maintain average wear and tear, or determining when and how often an aircraft engine should be pulled for maintenance.

Finding solutions and making accurate predictions requires integrating many different types of data sets, which can be challenging. “You’re mixing various functional areas together to analyze and answer these mission questions,” Konieczny said.

In order to take on this task and streamline data analysis, the Air Force combined its various sources of information — operations data (e.g. engine data and mission data), business data, open source and Internet data — into one data hub. Pulling all this information together by leveraging AWS allowed the Air Force to generate useful information assets towards solutions.

Konieczny outlined four steps for agencies to turn data into information:

  1. Determine Authoritative Data Sources (ADSs). The most important step is making sure your data sources are “timely, accurate and something you can depend upon. The data needs to be clean and accurately represent what’s going on in the mission or in the Air Force,” Konieczny said.
  2. Determine how you’re going to consolidate functional ADSs. The Air Force has multiple data sources, from HR systems, to logistics systems, to systems in each of the functional areas. Agencies “may have to look at various ways of consolidating data to come up with a standard set of information. Involving subject matter experts in the process of combining data across multiple functional areas is key to achieving meaningful results.”
  3. Determine the data hub for the combination of multiple function ADSs. How are you going to store and extract information in a way that is useful? “You want to be able to go to the real data immediately and pull out authoritative information,” Konieczny said. “When I pull an information asset out, am I going to get everything I need? Is it going to make sense to me?”
  4. Provide a secure means to combine and generate information assets. Security is critical, especially for sensitive or classified information. “Access controls and levels of authorization need to be applied to all your data,” Konieczny emphasized. This is where AWS’s security-as-a-service features can come in to provide agencies with a certified, agile and fully-managed secure cloud platform.

AWS offers a number of other benefits for agencies, in addition to its secure architecture. Leveraging AWS significantly reduces operation and management costs, as agencies don’t have to maintain and repair servers. “It’s a truly flexible, elastic model,” Vennergrund said. “You invoke the services when you need them and then you let them go. They are run on servers and databases you don’t manage, or they’re run on a per-usage basis.”

Based on case studies from the CSRA’s partnerships with Federal Aviation Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency, Vennergrund outlined additional takeaways and key benefits of AWS:

  • Cloud services allow stove-piped data to be rapidly integrated and accessed.
  • Agencies are better able to overcome the “data deluge” in a unified platform.
  • Agencies no longer have to manage data to achieve insights, and can focus on innovation and analytics.

By leveraging AWS, agencies can experience faster, smarter and more secure data integration. In so doing, agencies can turn data analysis into real-time predictions, enabling them to improve operations innovate and advance their missions.

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