Intel community’s new data strategy looks to lay foundations of AI future

Intelligence Community Chief Data Officer Lori Wade says a new IC data strategy prioritizes a more data-savvy workforce, and sets the groundwork for the IC to u...

The intelligence community is setting a two-year roadmap for its workforce to become more familiar with data and artificial intelligence tools — and is already charting progress toward those goals.

The 2023-2025 IC Data Strategy, released Tuesday, lays out the steps all 18 intelligence agencies will take to develop a more data-savvy workforce, and set the groundwork for the IC to use AI tools.

The strategy states the IC brought the document together to stay ahead of a “new period of strategic competition.”

“It is no longer just about the volume of data, it is about who can collect, access, exploit and gain actionable insight the fastest, as the will have the decision and intelligence advantage,” the report states.

Lori Wade, the intelligence community’s chief data officer, said in an exclusive interview that the 11-page strategy spends little time on background, but focuses on implementation of near-term goals.

“We have two years to really get focused on some of the foundational areas of end-to-end data management,” said in a joint interview on Inside the IC and All About Data.

“Data is fundamental to everything that we do in the intelligence community, and our ability to manage it properly. And to maintain how we do data across our entire lifecycle is an important part of where we’re going to move the needle forward, if you will, for the intelligence community,” Wade said.

The IC CDO Council’s next meeting in August will focus on a review of the second-quarter results of the data strategy’s one-year action plan. The council also serves as a forum for component agencies to collaborate on shared solutions, as well as work together on shared challenges.

“We’re opening up the space, where they take a step back and do a collective move forward on either challenges, build on accomplishments, or work together as we go forward,” Wade said.

The data strategy outlines four focus areas:

  • Perform end-to-end data management
  • Deliver data interoperability and analytics at speed and scale
  • Advance all partnerships for continued digital and data innovation
  • Transform the IC workforce to be data-driven

“To date, we have not significantly prioritized data as a strategic and operational IC asset. The central challenge remains that the IC is not fielding data, analytics, and artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled capabilities at the pace and scale required to preserve our decision and intelligence advantage,” the report states.

To ensure the intelligence community has the skills it needs to respond to emerging threats, the strategy elevates the importance of upskilling the current IC workforce on data skills, while also recruiting new hires with these in-demand skills.

Wade said the IC data strategy reflects the need for data professionals and analysts to keep their skills sharp through continuous training and “evolving their data tradecraft.”

But the entire IC workforce, she added, will need to have a baseline level of data literacy.

“There’s a data acumen and literacy that we have to bring every single IC officer up to — whether they’re leading the agency, working on the legal side [or] the acquisition side. No matter where you are, you’re going to touch and work with data, whether it be our business data or mission data. So we need to understand, what does that mean, and how does that look?” Wade said.

CDOs are actively evaluating the level of data literacy that exists today across the intelligence community workforce to understand potential gaps and training requirements.

“How do we embed some element of data into every module that’s for entry on duty for anyone coming into their agency or to the IC,” Wade said.

The intel community is also looking to upskill its workforce through its Public-Private Talent Exchange (PPTE). The program gives IC personnel an opportunity to develop skills and expertise from industry partners on the front lines of technology breakthroughs.

Wade said that, as part of the PPTE program, her office is bringing academia and IC components together on a data-focused “mission sprint,” that will focus on real-world applications of data in the intelligence community.

“We’re going to use a real mission example, and we’re going to bring in officers from the IC to work  with individuals and experts from the private sector and from an academic organization to really dive in and solve a real mission problem,” she said.

The IC workforce now spans five generations, but as intelligence agencies bring in Gen-Z talent, Wade said the IC needs to make full use of their specific skill sets and expertise.

“We need to make sure that everything that we’re doing across the organization will take full advantage of what they’re bringing to the table — which is, they’re digital natives,” she said. “And we need to make sure that we’ve got everyone else who’s already in the intelligence community up to that kind of understanding, so that we can work together as one IC, as we go forward with the same digital and data literacy,” Wade said.

AI foundations

Wade said AI and automation tools serve as the foundation for data-driven decision-making, since the volume of data IC agencies produce far exceeds what its workforce can process manually.

“Today, people aren’t understanding the volumes of data — that they no longer can just even go through it on their own. We have technology and capabilities that we can bring to help us to do that in ways that we haven’t in the past. We need to take full advantage of that, but we need to be ready ourselves,” Wade said.

The strategy lays out a goal to establish “end-to-end data management plans” from when data is collected or acquired, all the way through the exploitation, dissemination and ultimate disposition of that data.

Wade said the goal is underpinned by a new intelligence community directive on “data management” that ensures all data that’s collected — whether it’s open source, commercial or by classified means — has a data management plan.

She noted the successful adoption of AI will require the deliberate management of data.

“AI is something that requires quality data,” she said. “Highly curated data, or data that has to be tagged and labeled. It has to be discoverable and accessible. We have to have a data architecture in place. So we’re working on all of that.”

ODNI is also developing a “common IC data catalog” to help create inventories of data across intelligence agencies with shared standards and metadata.

“So each agency can have their own catalog, but they need to be able to then connect it to the larger IC data catalog,” she said. “We see that as a way to drive the data management and the best practices, because if you’re putting something in a catalog, you’re tagging it, you’ve labeled things.”

And the strategy further prioritizes interoperability of data standards in and out of the intelligence community. Wade said the IC is partnering with the Defense Department as they build out their own data strategy.

“That’s how we ‘re going to get to speed and scale — as much of the things that we have that already exist, that we can adopt — and making sure that we’re following a set of common standards, that we have that infrastructure where we’re sharing capability, and that we are looking and doing that end-to-end,” Wade said.

To ensure the IC is tapped into the latest technology developments, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) is looking to lower the barriers to collaborate with industry partners through its “Front Door” access program.

Wade said she also recently met with Army Futures Command and industry partners in Austin, Texas, to better understand which emerging technologies the intelligence community needs to focus on, and how those tools might impact the data strategy and its second-year action plan.

Wade said these programs focus on reducing the barriers of entry for private sector companies that are working on some of these emerging technologies — whether it be AI, Web3 or immersive technologies like the Metaverse.

“If this is the place, and the platforms, and the technologies where all social interaction will occur, what does that mean for national security?” she said.

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