As the federal government transitions to a new administration, and new priorities, one initiative that’s expected to remain on track is the Federal Data Strategy — a set of principles, practices and action steps to make more productive use of federal data.
But where and how agencies move forward with their data strategies — and whether they get the IT funding they need — will play an important part in advancing the Biden administration’s priorities, say two federal government data experts in a new FedScoop podcast underwritten by NetApp and immixGroup.
“The Federal Data Strategy laid out a really good plan and provided a lot of useful steps and guidance for agencies to follow, to implement their own data management strategies. Honestly, what the agencies need now is the funds to upgrade their technology and equipment to implement that data strategy,” says Kristen Verderame, vice president of government relations at NetApp, a leading provider of cloud data services, storage systems and software.
“Agencies recognize that data sharing and management are fundamentally important concepts and are addressing those according with top down and bottom up approaches. Most agencies have established a Chief Data Officer role to drive those efforts in ways that make sense for their individual mission,” adds Jessica Parks, market intelligence analyst at immixGroup, which provides intelligence and support to more than 300 manufacturers and 1,200 solutions providers serving the public sector.
Many agencies, however, found themselves having to quickly move data systems to the cloud over the past year, “without having time to think through their larger data strategies,” notes Verderame. “We’ve seen a lot of agencies come to realize more and more that the cloud is great for some things; but it’s not great for everything — for example, when you need to use data in a highly transactional basis and having your data on prem is actually preferable due to speed and price,” she says.
Given the significant increase in ransomware attacks, she adds, it’s more important than ever to ensure that agency data is “resilient and redundant.”
In light of the epic challenges the new administration faces in trying to quell the pandemic and help millions of out-of-work families, it would be easy to dismiss the need for focusing on data strategies.
But Parks and Verdame argue it’s still important for the administrations to set clear expectations over the first 100 days, given the importance data plays in dealing with these and other challenges.
“One top priority for the Biden administration should be more initiatives that help to further increase the federal workforce’s data literacy, which is something that would benefit every single agency large or small, no matter what their mission is,” Parks says. “While tools are certainly important, it’s also important to have the people who know how to maximize those resources.”
“In addition, I think the administration could really support the agencies by helping to clarify [President Joe Biden’s] expectations for utilizing emerging technologies like artificial intelligence,” Verderame says. “A lot of agencies have been told to just go do AI, but they don’t really know in many cases … how to do this securely, and in a manner that prevents bias and abuse.”
“During the campaign, we saw President-elect Biden announced plans to spend $2 trillion on various types of infrastructure investment in a wide range of sectors. We would like to see [steps to] include funding for the technology to support that infrastructure as well as to support upgrading the hard infrastructure itself,” Verderame says. “This is something that we have seen as a strong need at the state level in the last few years, especially that technology is a key piece of the infrastructure, but it’s one for which funding is not always available.”
“I definitely think tech modernization is something that is going to be a priority under the by the administration,” Parks says. “I know the news was just released that the Biden team is potentially looking at allocating up to $9 billion to the Technology Modernization Fund. Modernization of infrastructure, I think, is definitely something that’s achievable.”
Data advancing the mission
Verderame points to examples where agencies, such as the Veterans Administration, have made major strides in leveraging data, but argues more needs to be done to put that data to work securely.
“A solid data management strategy really is like a budget,” Parks says. It requires “taking the time to become aware of the assets you have — in this case, information — and planning how to use them. That ultimately results in more success down the road, whether that’s better decision making more efficient processes or something else.”
Listen to the podcast for the full conversation on data management strategies. You can hear more coverage of “IT Modernization in Government” on our FedScoop radio channels on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and TuneIn.
Jessica Parks is a research analyst focusing on trends and events impacting IT acquisition by the federal government.
Kristen Verderame has many years of experience providing strategic direction and legal counsel for a variety of companies including BT Global Services, Booz Allen Hamilton, the British American Business Council, and FireEye among others, before joining NetApp.