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Why CISA’s Upcoming Data Strategy Is Important

The Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) is coming out with a new data strategy soon, Chief Data Officer W. Preston Werntz said on Thursday. As the agency tasked with leading the way in security for the federal government, CISA’s work on a data strategy is a big deal, but major media outlets probably won’t jump on the news.

Why? As is the case with any agency, data is hardly a driver for business interests, constituents or employees. Instead, they’re more focused on exciting new technologies such as cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and automation, often unaware data is the bedrock for these technologies.

“We mostly are data agencies,” Werntz said, serving on a panel during GovLoop’s recent online training, “How to Drive the Mission With Simplified Data Integration.” Joining Werntz were two experts from MarkLogic, a data solutions partner for government.

Before emerging technologies can transform an agency, the data has to be standardized, accessed and shared. Poor data can throw off models and wrongly bias decisions, so it’s imperative to have the correct frameworks in place.

Werntz said that CISA’s data focus has four tracks: institutionalizing data governance and stewardship; improving data literacy; fostering data discovery, access, understandability and reuse; and increasing data sharing.

These frameworks are how agencies have to view data looking forward, said Ken Krupa, Vice President of Global Systems Engineering at MarkLogic. Whereas data used to be kept in single-domain environments with static structures, data now moves all over enterprises, and agencies need an operational data hub to track, protect and use the data now.

“When you start combining different models and when your models can change as frequently as your data itself because you’re taking in different information from different sources almost on a daily basis, you need something that’s more agile,” Krupa said.

What that means is that data no longer exists in a vacuum. Agencies need to answer a gamut of questions, as they’re on the hook for answers about origin, purpose, standardization, location and use.

The metadata has to be correct, and the right governance needs to be in play.

Those factors ensure data can be organized, contextualized and acted upon. Otherwise, organizations risk duplication, data loss or poor-quality information.

“After you get a finding, you have to chunk that. It’s very much how the human brain works – I get the finding and now I have to chunk that in the context of everything else I know,” said Sean Walters, Practice Director for the Defense Department at MarkLogic.

As agencies continuously collaborate across departments, they need guidance for data governance. The recently released Federal Data Strategy attempted to provide an overview that could trickle down, and Werntz said to expect more information on specific governance, standardization and timetables.

Agencies can prepare themselves now, drafting their own organizational policies, governance instructions and data strategies.

Even preparing workforces for how they will have to adapt to data will be crucial.

CISA, for example, is targeting a cultural shift to reflect that data management doesn’t just fall on analysts. Instead of referring to “data owners,” Werntz uses the term “data steward,” emphasizing that data is everybody’s responsibility – and opportunity.

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