The Five-Fold Path for Ensuring Data = Information

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    Big Data: Not Just for Big Business Anymore

    When it comes to data silos, nobody does it quite as well as the government.

    This makes government agencies the butt of a lot of jokes, but there are actually some pretty good reasons for these silos.

    First, most government agencies have been around for nearly 100 years and counting. Second, these agencies have usually grown through Congressional action, which can by act establish a whole new division to support new services.

    Third, technology adoption is slow in the public sector, often because of reasons one and two.

    For service-based agencies such as the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, these silos make it impossible to turn data into useful, 360-degree information about their customers: U.S. veterans.

    In other words, the sum result is: Data ≠ Information.

    How do you change that equation?

    Dat Tran, the VA’s deputy assistant secretary for data governance and analysis, says the key is data governance.

    For Tran, data governance isn’t just about ensuring the data’s quality or security: It’s about turning data — even Big Data — into information.

    “A lot of organizations I’ve dealt with, the data we capture and use is for operational purposes, but we don’t look at it from a business-process perspective and understand how to use it for better decision-making,” Tran tells Computerworld. “When I talk about data governance, I’m talking about how to deal with people, process and technology.”


    Buddha taught the Eight-Fold Path, in which practitioners are encouraged to pursue right, or skilled, action, effort, speech and so on. Based on Tran’s advice and with apologies and respect to the Buddhists, here’s a five-fold path for ensuring Data = Information:

    1. Right Infrastructure. Of course, you need to ensure you have the correct hardware, software and network, but you also need to streamline databases, eliminating silos and redundancies.
    2. Right Knowledge Process. Most organizations are so focused on operations, they forget about analytics. “We basically need to shift from an operational focus to a more analytic focus, not only to report what has happened and what’s currently happening but to use what we know to apply predictive analytics to understand what will be happening in the future,” Tran says.
    3. Right Human Capital. When you’re integrating the data, make sure you also help the people behind the data understand why and how they can examine the broader, organizational perspective.
    4. Right Culture. “We need to instill a culture where data is viewed as an asset,” Tran explains.
    5. Right Leadership. Tran is a big believer in creating a chief data officer who reports to either the COO or CEO. He recognizes that sometimes, the CIO will play that role. No matter who does it, it’s essential that the CDO role knows about both technology and the business.

    “The chief data officer would be someone who could speak to both the technology folks and the business folks and serve as the link that pulls business and IT together,” he said.

    To read more about the VA’s efforts and Tran’s view of data governance, check out Computerworld’s profile of Tran.

    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson
    Loraine Lawson is a freelance writer specializing in technology and business issues, including integration, health care IT, cloud and Big Data.

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