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More Than a Numbers Game: 6 Steps to Managing Difficult Data

This article is an excerpt from GovLoop’s recent report, “Answering the Most Challenging Data Management Questions.” Download the full report here.

Data storage looks nothing like it did just a few years ago. Think back to federal buildings with back offices and storage rooms full of paper stacks, manila folders and filing cabinets – lots and lots of filing cabinets. Some data was well organized and systematically classified to make both storage and retrieval easier. And then there was the rest, randomly scattered about or stuffed away and virtually inaccessible to anyone who needed it.

Today, instead of folders and paper, information is stored, accessed and secured electronically,  and it’s housed in high-tech data centers. Even though it’s on a server instead of thrown onto a stack, much like the old days, government data can still get lost in the abyss. In the digital age, government agencies are producing and consuming unfathomable amounts and types of data. But as they don’t always know what to do with it, the vast majority of data is unorganized.

While the information contained in lengthy data sets and spreadsheets is often uncharted territory, it’s also just the beginning. New multimedia files are changing the dynamic of data management, requiring that agencies have modern storage and management practices.

Meanwhile, agencies are beginning to realize what they already possess – both in risk and potential. Old, unencrypted data can be vulnerable to hackers and insider threats when the appropriate security protocols aren’t in place. Furthermore, imminent data privacy laws will force agencies to account for and update their data management practices sooner than later, and the process will only become more expensive as agencies absorb more data.

Data governance solutions can help here. As in the past, they’ve uncovered significant amounts in missing funds, created efficiencies and eliminated silos between different agency arms.

That means the good news is that agencies can look at their data optimistically, not fearfully. As agencies have to increasingly maximize their resources, a data management strategy can provide more flexibility than ever before.

Here are six steps to establishing successful data governance.

1. Account for the data you have.

Before starting down the road of protecting your data or trying to analyze it, you need to know what you have. Data visibility is the first step, and it’s where many agencies go wrong. First, ask agency leaders what data is most important. Then dig further, asking about classification, storage and protection. If leaders don’t have the answers, that’s all the more reason why a data management strategy is needed.

2. Establish a data management framework.

Changing the way an organization views and uses data is a team effort. When advocating for data governance, it’s imperative early on to create a data management committee – pulling members from all sectors of the agency. The role of the committee will be to advocate for data stewardship, as well as determine the best business, security and IT data protocols.

3. Demonstrate business value.

What’s learned from data is far more important than numbers in a spreadsheet. When discussing data governance, always consider the business value and how data can be used to further your agency’s mission. Offering tangible end goals will get leadership on board and increase commitment to a data culture.

4. Eliminate data and workflow silos.

A patchwork of data governance can only do so much, meaning it’s important to have data advocates in every corner pushing for data management. A holistic data governance strategy will help every department, so ensuring that data is open and shared between branches will multiply agency benefits.

5. Prepare for the future.

New technologies and federal laws will change the way agencies receive, process, secure and leverage data. As the rules of engagement change, be sure that your agency is evolving with the times – incorporating modern technologies such as cloud computing — to maximize output with data.

6. Partner with industry.

Fortunately, private sector partners can help every step of the way. From standardizing and classifying data at the beginning to offering modern solutions, vendors can ensure that data governance strategies are set into place smoothly. With an outside eye, industry partners can also determine the best security practices and install them on the front end.


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