Now is the height of the misinformation age. The hearsay of today can’t be trusted, as social media feeds distribute false information and the news increasingly chases clicks.
Although agencies may not be liable to the caprice of social media or the deceit of clickbait, they are at risk of not knowing what information to trust – especially in distributed enterprises with data coming from all different angles. Decision-makers regularly need to cut through the weeds to actually make fact-based choices.
Finding truth is all the more important during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as “talking heads” on TV networks can fearmonger, data stands absolute, said Nicholas Speece, Chief Federal Technologist for Snowflake, which specializes in cloud data services platforms.
Conveyed from an indisputable single source of truth, data-based facts are why the public overwhelmingly trusts Dr. Anthony Fauci, the leading federal immunologist, despite caustic political division, Speece said.
“It keeps us focused. It keeps us unified,” Speece said during GovLoop’s virtual summit Wednesday. “That’s the power of data. That’s the power of truth.”
Current data efforts such as the COVID-19 Policy Alliance have been guided by leaders in the research and health care fields, including John Hopkins and MIT. Snowflake has compiled data from John Hopkins and other sources to create a nationwide dataset of COVID-19 cases, serving as a reliable nationwide source for information.
Agencies need the same source of verifiable, dependable truth during calmer times too. Speece said that to construct a single source of truth, agencies need to build on a foundation of people, policy and pipes.
Agencies have data cornered in every cubby and nook of the office. But the information usually remains siloed.
Though technology often creates silos, another common silo exists in the minds of employees. HR departments and financial teams may not think to share information, for example, though it could be mutually beneficial in examining the cost and value of onboarding programs.
Speece said a silver lining of COVID-19 is that it’s engendered more teamwork.
“There’s been a lot of folks cooperating and collaborating who wouldn’t have, or maybe couldn’t have, before,” Speece said.
Recent federal, state and local initiatives have targeted more data collaboration. Finding opportunities where data could work for multiple agencies was a central focus of the Federal Data Strategy, as well as data strategies for individual agencies. States likewise have come together to form a State Chief Data Officers Network.
Speece mentioned the concept of a shared Most Wanted list spanning the Justice Department, Homeland Security Department and FBI to unify and coordinate their efforts. These sorts of undertakings largely haven’t come together yet in government.
To achieve such a single source of truth, data can’t be wasted, and department heads must communicate.
Following up on policy, agencies need to put the pipelines in place to establish a single source of truth for collaboration.
“That type of scale is not going to sit in a data center. It’s not going to sit in one agency,” Speece said.
Cloud-based platforms are a possible solution. Often, they’re cheaper than data centers because of on-demand services and limited upkeep. Speece said that in the past too much data “hit the floor” simply because agencies lacked the space.
Now, agencies have room for all their data, and greater availability creates greater opportunities for collaboration, innovation and a single source of truth.
“Data is a raw material. We want to save as much data as we possibly can,” Speece said. “Information is the refined product.”
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