Navy sees need for CDO, has too many moving parts to implement now

Even with a full implementation plan for a chief data officer has been sitting on the shelf for more than a year, top Navy management and technology officials still say the time isn’t right to set up the office.

That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of enthusiasm for the position though.

The Navy “is still actively pursuing where that capability would be, what it might be titled, it might be chief digital officer. There are a couple of different roads they may go down, they just don’t have a clear vector yet,” said Monica Price Hutchins, who works in strategy and innovation for the Navy chief management officer, during a Feb. 7 AFCEA West event in San Diego.

Hutchins stated there is a clear need for some sort of data management positions within the Navy.

“All of that data [we collect] it’s not as though you can hit a button and literally have a database or have a search of ‘Hey, here’s everything related to that,’” Hutchins said. “How you actually pull all of that information? That in itself when you can give that use case, when you can give an example to senior leadership that helps them understand not just intellectually, but empirically, this is how we are trying to solve this problem.”

The Navy recently made some progress toward more entrenched data management within its organizational structure.

On March 20, the service eliminated its deputy under secretary of the Navy for management position to create a chief management officer. Part of the CMO’s duties will be to provide a data strategy for improved business operations.

Hutchins said the CDO role can show leadership how data is moved through and utilized in multiple components of the military.

One example would be in the acquisition of a product, Hutchins said. The CDO could aggregate all of the acquisition issues, cloud issues, data integrity, funding timing and post-processing all in one place.

“That maze is what we at least try to help drive the conversation and advise leadership on [with the CDO position],” Hutchins said.

Department of the Navy Chief Information Officer Kelly Fletcher also said the need for a data manager in the Navy is clear especially as the service moves to the cloud.

“We have legacy data; it’s going to be in the cloud,” Fletcher said. “The good news is it’s not going to be in a box in the basement anymore, it will be digital, but it will be the same quality, which in some cases is just real, real bad. We have to look at this data and say, ‘Do we need this data?’ If we need it, why is it of this low quality? And make sure we label data as we move to the cloud and make sure that wherever we store this data and put these systems this is interoperable.”

What’s holding up the creation of a chief data or digital officer, Hutchins said, is the organizational flux the Navy is in right now.

With a new Navy secretary taking the reins, the secretariat, the operational Navy and Marine Corps commandant staff are in the process of reorganizing.

On top of that, the Office of Management and Budget is asking federal agencies to find areas where it can cut waste.

With all of those moving parts, Hutchins said the Navy isn’t able to create a new position.

“There are a lot of different efforts at different paces, which adding in a new position is not the best time to do right now,” Hutchins said.

The Navy isn’t that far behind its peers according to an unscientific online survey of DoD IT professionals conducted by Federal News Radio. The survey found only 28 percent of respondents’ agencies currently have a CDO.

However, a Navy source told Federal News Radio last fall that there may be other tensions slowing down the CDO process.

The source said senior leaders in the military have seen the plan, but haven’t agreed on a way forward. Vice Adm. Jan Tighe, the deputy chief of naval operations for information warfare, confirmed she been briefed on the CDO issue and has been in talks with the Navy Secretariat office for about a year on it.

There are two forces pulling at the Navy’s CDO plan, the source said: some leaders want a full CDO office right now that can bring in meaningful results. Others see risks in moving too quickly. The interim period would give the CDO time to set up the office establish policy and technical objectives with clear roles and responsibilities within the Navy.

Some leaders also fear the CDO will step on the jurisdiction of the CIO.

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