If there’s one thing that federal agencies have in common, it’s an increasing interest in putting the petabytes of data they have at their disposal to work to expand mission success. However, while the interest is there and the Federal Data Strategy is in place, most agencies have struggled to cultivate a modern data experience.
The need for this modern data experience – which, writ large, is the ability to harness and store data in a way that is efficient, secure, and non-disruptive – came into sharp relief this spring with the COVID-19 pandemic. Not only did agency employees need to continue normal operations, but also address the public health crisis, fight a recession, and maintain an accurate and secure data record. And they had to do it all while working remotely.
“Data that’s not available is useless; it’s dead weight,” explained Nick Psaki, Principal Engineer at Pure Storage in a recent webcast on the data challenges facing agencies. Nick was joined by Chief Records Officer of the United States, Laurence Brewer from the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA). “Now imagine what happened to the ability of federal employees to access data when everyone began working from home,” Psaki continued. “The increase in external bandwidth from virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) slowed access tremendously. And if you can’t move and access data efficiently, your people are less efficient.”
However, a sluggish, inefficient experience isn’t inevitable according to Psaki. When it comes to accessing data, fast matters. “You can build a modern data experience for federal agencies where data can be moved and accessed quickly and insights can be found faster,” he shared. It all depends on building a hybrid architecture where you can take advantage of the cloud and access storage-as-a-Service. Rather than buying storage as a fixed commodity, the innovation delivered by a subscription model enables agencies to only purchase the capacity the agency needs, as they need it. “In the last few months we’ve been able to help agencies scale to meet their needs as their remote workforce came online,” added Psaki. “With an entirely U.S. based supply chain we were able to help agencies expand their data capacity to give them the same speed and security as if all employees were still in the office and we were able to do it all within a couple of days.”
But the advantages of this highly scalable, secure, and efficient data storage infrastructure aren’t just something that agencies need during this current pandemic, it’s something they will need as they look to take advantage of the power of artificial intelligence and machine learning. And, as NARA’s Brewer noted, as agencies come into compliance with the mandate for agencies to transition to full record digitization and yet more data flows within and between agencies. “In 2018 we made the move to stop managing dual processes of maintaining paper and electronic records and by 2022 we’re going to be a fully electronic government,” he shared.
One silver lining to the disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic might just be how the rapid transition to remote work has brought the need for fast, non-disruptive, and secure access to data into sharp relief. While many agencies have, in the past, struggled with how to build a modern data experience, necessity has driven change. Shared Stuart McGuigan, CIO for the Department of State “it was a little bit of a surprise to all of us just how quickly we can move. We can move quickly without compromise on controls, without compromise on security posture, without compromise on all those things we need to do to make sure things are up and working for our people.”
This untapped potential – both culturally and technologically – for agile response has not only kept essential agency services and mission-critical activities available during the worst days of the pandemic but it is also preparing agencies well for the data-driven innovations that will surely shape our nation’s future.
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