Insight by Alation

How a data culture can boost your chances of program success

Data available for analysis and program improvement grows exponentially. The challenge, then, is organizing it and making it available in a usable way to people...

When the Biden administration recently added strategy details and success metrics to its management agenda, it only highlighted the need for the right data to undergird the agenda’s three lines of efforts.

Agencies constantly generate data from the millions of transactions the government executes daily. Data available for analysis and program improvement grows exponentially. The challenge becomes organizing it and making it available in a usable way to people, whether they’re in program management, human resources, acquisition, IT or any other function, said Scott Woestman, vice president for public sector sales at Alation.

“First we’ve got to level set and understand that the government already has a great asset. There’s data everywhere,” Woestman said during a session at Federal News Network’s Industry Exchange: Data. That said, he added, nearly every program or function — reduction of improper payments, hiring and talent management, and health care, for example — would benefit from the addition of data analytics.

Woestman recommended three steps agencies need to take after amassing data:

  • Providing access to it
  • Creating a governance framework for handling it
  • Establishing a data culture

Data governance versus checkbox compliance

To the extent possible, agencies should automate their processes for data handling, if only because of the growing volumes involved, he said. As for governance, Woestman said that all organizations need to avoid data oversight becoming a restrictive process or a compliance checkbox. Instead, he recommended that rules for data engagement be established and applied at the access stage as part of process automation.

Access and governance working in tandem, he added, is “what builds success across programs.”

Data management platforms such as Alation not only automate access to large and disparate data sets, but they also provide an interface suitable for business and program users — not just the data science crew, Woestman said.

“Someone like myself, who’s not very technical, can use Alation every day,” he said, “to find and query the data, run analyses and then find those reports that are going to be most cogent to what I’m looking for.”

Successive uses of a given data set, coupled with user rankings, increase the ability for people to find exactly what they’re looking for to support their particular mission needs. Woestman called that process “data commentary collaboration.”

“You’ve heard the adage that typically, in this market, people are spending 80% of their time looking for the data — or scrambling for it — and just 20% on analysis,” Woestman said. “We want to flip that.”

Breaking down data silos

The commercial and public sectors share a big challenge organizing and getting greater value out of their data, Woestman said. A typical example? Data silos, collections of useful material only available to a segment of the organization.

Silos stem from what he called command-and-control governance structures and restrict people from accessing the data that they need, he said.

“What we’re looking to do is flip that on its head and make it an iterative process, make it a people process. We like to call it democratization of data, getting access and data in the hands of people who need to use it,” Woestman said.

He cited one large federal health agency that’s in the midst of an effort to integrate its data and modernize the systems to use it.

“They’re moving from essentially ingesting data from disparate silos to getting an enterprise understanding of that data,” Woestman said. The agency is working to let users across programs access data regardless of where it originates or which organization or team stores it.

Given the hybrid, multi-cloud host architectures that agencies are adopting, Alation makes its products available as both cloud and on-premises applications, he said.

To listen and watch other Industry Exchange: Data sessions, visit our event page.

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