Why data chiefs need to be everywhere

Agency chief data officers belong where they are needed, and that's not necessarily in the IT shop.

Shutterstock image: data streaming.

Some chief data officers are working with management issues and people more than they're working with information technology, which gives them important ties to both worlds, according to experts.

"CDOs should be wherever they're most effective," Dan Morgan, chief data officer at the Department of Transportation said at a Dec. 5 conference hosted by the Advanced Technology Academic Research Center.

Big data, Morgan said, has become key at helping federal agencies become more efficient producers and users of services and capabilities.  Agencies' datasets are the grease that makes their operations run more smoothly, so having a CDO that understands both the tech side and the business side of an agency is crucial.

"Data can become more of a tech issue" if it's directly tied to the CIO's office, said Kirsten Dalboe, director of data operations in Health and Human Services' Inspector General's office. That means technology, not necessarily an agency's operational and business needs, can wind up driving big data efforts, she said.

At the General Services Administration, CDO Kris Rowley said before assigning an organizational slot for the office, agencies should discuss what they want the position to accomplish.  An agency's data and administrative communities should agree on a set of "three to five core responsibilities" then decide where the office should reside.

Rowley has been busy building a way to better leverage all manner of data the agency has under its roof. GSA, he said, is honing a cloud platform that he hopes will drive consistency in the reporting data of the agency's various business lines.

The self-service data platform, the Data Science Virtual Desktop, he said, will allow the agency to support a growing number of analysts and other workers who rely on big datasets and develop their own tools to analyze them, instead of looking for another IT product to do the work.

DVSD, he said, is allowing GSA analysts and "data stewards" to come together on a central platform to do business analysis and other data-crunching functions that can lead to more coherent contracting for goods and services, as well as smoother internal business practices and forecasting.