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US Postal Service Might Be Just Fine Without a Chief Data Officer

David Goldman/AP File Photo

Despite the U.S. Postal Service’s piles of data generated by 31,000 facilities, almost half a million employees and 153 million delivery addresses, it has yet to follow the popular lead of other federal agencies and hire a chief data officer. But so far, it looks to be handling its data pretty well without one, according to a recent inspector general report.

Instead of a CDO, the agency has given its chief information officer the responsibility for distilling its reams of data into business insights.

“The CIO’s data practices demonstrate effective use of internal and external business data,” the report stated.

But that doesn’t mean there aren't ways for its data practices to be improved, according to the study.

As with other federal agencies, the Postal Service’s data is used for important day-to-day decisions as well as risk management. 

“Effective data use by the CIO supports the rest of senior management in their efforts to achieve the Postal Service’s goals,” the report stated.

But the methods the CIO uses to communicate this data to management may need some updating, according to the IG. 

Currently, the agency's CIO uses granular metrics, such as graphs, tables and email correspondence, for communicating data to the agency’s management. This is not necessarily a bad way to report data. However, in the case of the Postal Service and its mounds of raw data, this format is simply not proving as effective as it needs to be.

For example, in just its weekly service performance reports, the Postal Service uses some 800 separate pieces of metrics, according to the study. And when the IG audit team requested a sample of the data often used for decision-making, they received 20 files containing more than 200 pieces of granular metrics.

“This is a voluminous amount of data to be reviewed and used in daily decision making,” stated the study.

The report does not mention anything about the Postal Service needing to hire a CDO to improve its data practices, but it does suggest it make one important change -- use an aggregate-type dashboard. The dashboard could show composite metrics for only the most important areas, including talent management, user satisfaction and information security.

This format could not only succinctly highlight the parts of data most important for management purposes, but also help the agency put more emphasis on its information infrastructure.

In response to the report, the agency’s management concurred with these findings and its recommendations. It plans to employ the aforementioned dashboard later this year.

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