OPM built COVID dashboard on a shoestring

Office of Personnel Management used a purchase card to kick off cloud-based emergency response data dashboard.


The Office Personnel Management (OPM) earlier this year set up an COVID data dashboard for its employees using a credit card, Python, and an initial cloud buy that can be expanded in the future for more detailed data, according to Akanksha Sharma, senior advisor to the agency's CIO.

One of the challenges at OPM in the early days of the pandemic, said Sharma, was the agency's facilities management operations team needed to find and aggregate data on the disease's spread.

As the pandemic emerged and spread, that team "was manually scraping data off of the Internet, state and federal government websites about COVID cases," she said in remarks in a Sept. 23 cloud and infrastructure webcast held by the General Services Administration's Technology Transformation Service.

OPM's facilities management team, said Sharma, was using the data to do trend analysis to monitor when it would be safe to re-open some agency facilities.

"They had done a great job, creating an Excel spreadsheet, but it took them two to three hours a day and there was never truly an up-to-date version" of the data dashboard, Sharma said.

The facilities team came to the CIO, she said, for help. OPM's CIO office and the agency's Center of Excellence team developed a solution that tapped open source data and a custom-developed Python application to produce an easy-to-use, automatically-updated dashboard, according to Sharma.

After the work on the dashboard app was completed, Sharma looked to the cloud to make it easily accessible within the agency.

"This is the very kind of use case that cloud really excels at -- shortening the time to market" she said.

The initial cloud buy was small, done with a federal purchase card, said Sharma. The initial buy, she explained, could be a foothold to provide a foundation for an enterprise cloud. The dashboard effort also helped the agency begin to streamline its cloud Authority to Operate processes as well, according to Sharma.