Survey: Feds Unprepared for Data Deluge

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Projections show the public sector could see volume of data grow by a factor of 3.5 in the coming years, but nearly 90% of IT leaders say they are not ready for rapid growth, according to a new survey.

A technological era marked by a tidal wave of data may be on its way, but according to a new report, the U.S. public sector is unprepared to deal with the projected influx of data. 

The report, released by data management company Splunk on Tuesday, reinforces the fact that the public sector lags private industry not only in adopting emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and edge computing but also in readiness for what the report calls the “Data Age.” 

Fewer than 25% of public sector respondents surveyed are aware that the volume of data they will collect and manage may grow by a factor of 3.5 in the coming years, according to the report, and close to 90% said they aren’t prepared for rapid growth. 

“I think the anxiety may come from the people who see the wave coming, and they don’t have a model for how to deal with it,” a chief information officer from the U.S. public sector said. The CIO is quoted anonymously in the report, which is based on a survey of 2,259 IT and business managers. More than 500 of the respondents are based in the U.S. 

One of the main challenges agencies will need to overcome in a data age is figuring out how to integrate data from multiple sources and manage increased volume in the face of strained resources, according to the report. That means more guidelines and clear frameworks for how to take advantage of available data are needed, Mike Saliter, the vice president for industries and specializations at Splunk, said. 

Saliter told Nextgov he believes agencies need more guidance from lawmakers regarding standards for best practices. He also said chief data officers need to be empowered to affect decision-making in agencies similar to the way the Federal Information Technology Acquisition Reform Act forces agencies to give chief information officers a true seat at the table. 

Saliter cited initiatives like a forthcoming resolution from Reps. Will Hurd, R-Texas, and Robin Kelly, D-Ill. The lawmakers said in an August 25 webinar that it will recognize previous bipartisan achievements in artificial intelligence as well as sketch a vision for the government’s role in the development of AI technology. 

“There is a need and a role in government to establish guardrails,” Saliter said. “There's a fine line between over-regulating or over-defining to where you can’t innovate anything, but I think as long as those rules are established about what is and is not in line, then it still allows people to work within those lines.”

“It keeps things on track in a consistent way,” he added. Saliter also pointed to the Digital Accountability and Transparency Act, known as the DATA Act, as an example of the kind of legislation needed to help agencies navigate a data age. 

Though FITARA has encouraged agencies to make strides in giving CIOs real ability to affect the transformation of IT, the same can’t be said for CDOs, particularly because the position is a newer one, according to Saliter. 

The “anxiety” to which the CIO quoted in the report alluded may be symptomatic of what Saliter described as an apprehension to change agencies sometimes feel. But giving agency technology leaders the power to implement change, versus making recommendations and hoping someone takes them up on it, could help evolve agency culture around using data. 

A recent Data Foundation survey found two-thirds of the federal chief data officers polled want to work on improving their agency’s broad data strategy, but three in five said financial and budgetary constraints are inhibiting their ability to promote data-driven governance. Half said they experienced challenges just defining the role of the CDO. 

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