For agencies to respond to evolving threat landscapes and constituent needs, data sharing as a core value is essential. As part of Federal News Network’s Federal Executive Forum CTO — Profiles in Excellence series, representatives from federal agencies and industry leaders imparted the value of data as a strategic asset.
As agencies gain a deeper understanding of the importance of data within an organization, it becomes more important to ensure that the insights from that data end up in the hands of decision makers. To achieve that, it is necessary to share data and intelligence not only within agencies, but across agencies as well. David Larrimore, CTO of the Department of Homeland Security, calls the issue of data sharing a connectivity problem. He explains that “right now, everybody thinks of sharing as, ‘Okay, give me your data.’ The perception of data sharing as one agency commandeering another’s information triggers a fear of losing ownership over the data that each organization spent significant time and resources to collect. Larrimore asserts a need to redefine what sharing means in order to assuage that fear and encourage collaboration.
Embracing a culture of data sharing is also pivotal to fully utilizing the new technologies that are being integrated into agencies’ daily operations. AI, machine learning (ML), data fabric, and other technologies are being introduced to help users find, access, and put their data to work to help inform decision making. Denodo’s Senior VP of Data Architecture and Chief Evangelist, Paul Moxon, is encouraged to see data becoming the lifeblood of agencies, but he also emphasizes the need to share quality data between agencies to make the technology valuable. “The data is the core to those insights,” he explained. “Without the data, your AI is nothing.”
Agencies that have begun to integrate data sharing into their culture are already seeing success. Christine Finnelle reported that the U.S. Marshals Service is nearing the end of their cloud migration and expect to reach 100 percent cloud within the next 12 – 18 months. Key focus areas for the Marshals have been Zero Trust and 5G services for connecting to the cloud from the field, as well as an emphasis on digital experience. Finnelle attributes the time and money saved by new automated workflows to improvements in intelligence sharing. “The ability to get that data fabric in place has been critical,” she said. Expanding the Marshals’ cloud capabilities will broaden the organization to deliver information faster and help users adopt new and existing technologies more quickly.
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The National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) also found success with a data fabric, implemented as part of their Product Realization Integrated Digital Enterprise (PRIDE) program. The NNSA is responsible for large amounts of classified data, but their operations are spread across several specialized and secure facilities. The manual data transfer process resulted in an extended delivery time, which compounded security and governance challenges. To ensure safe and secure data sharing between facilities, the NNSA leveraged data virtualization to democratize access to its data. Laboratory engineers at any facility can easily and quickly view data, and the shortened time in transit also reduced the likelihood of security breaches.
With data becoming the driving force for agencies within the next two to three years, operating one centralized data storage location may no longer be helpful or attainable. Even now, for example, the Navy’s fleet are unable to copy their data back to a central location. Moxon predicts each ship will become its own data center, connecting with other data centers to share information as needed. But this “distributed but connected” data environment comes with the challenge of how to connect securely to safely share intelligence across hundreds to thousands of partially connected centers. For any agency with field locations – be they ships in the ocean or marshals on assignment – face similar challenges when enabling access to data and data-driven tools at the edge.
Transparency and data sharing must become standard practice for agencies to achieve their goal of becoming fully data informed. Sharing data isn’t a matter of stealing others’ hard-earned results; it should be understood as pooling resources to work toward the common mission. Once agencies can embrace a data sharing culture, they can begin to unlock the true potential of their most valuable asset.