The Key to Government’s Digital Transformation is Data Literacy

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Without data literacy, the prospect of quickly meeting the administration’s data and IT modernization goals is simply not feasible.

The amount of data collected by the federal government is reaching almost unfathomable levels, which leads to a more pressing question: What good is data if you can’t mine it for gold?

Due to this quandary, the administration, agency heads and Congress have all been looking for ways to refresh and refine the government’s approach to analyzing and storing data. Most recently, the President’s Management Agenda outlined a new Federal Data Strategy to help further drive the digital transformation of the U.S. government, society and the economy.

At the core of modernization comes a general understanding and acceptance of technology. Without data literacy, the prospect of quickly meeting the administration’s data and IT modernization goals is simply not feasible. Over the course of the next year, federal stakeholders will be tasked with providing input surrounding usage of and access to critical data, which will further inform the best practices and principles that make up the Federal Data Strategy.  

However, while the tactics and overall vision of the Federal Data Strategy will empower agencies to become more data-driven, it does not solve the issue of those within the federal workforce—from management to support staff—who currently lack the data literacy skills needed to comprehend what these mountains of data are trying to tell us. The lack of data literacy inhibits federal leaders from leveraging insights to make informed and strategic decisions that will ultimately benefit their agency’s workforce and the citizens they serve.

In an effort to bridge widening skills gaps and further drive innovation across their agency, the first step in this process is ensuring that federal employees at all levels of government acquire the data literacy skills needed to achieve these goals.

Training Today’s Workforce for Tomorrow’s Data-Driven Culture

While several federal civilian and defense agencies are staffed with highly trained data scientists who can sift through and contextualize this critical information, there remains a substantial shortage of highly skilled or trained workers who can keep up with the rapid pace in which data is generated.

The government is facing myriad challenges when it comes to recruiting STEM professionals. As the demand for candidates with these unique skills rises, agencies continue to struggle to fill these vacancies.

In fact, Office of Personnel Management Director Jeff Pon called attention to the widening skills gap among STEM and cyber positions, indicating that a lack of talent in these fields could affect mission-critical functions.

However, workers do not need to be data scientists to be data literate. Many of those skills that enable scientists to understand, work with, analyze, and argue with data can be taught. By training existing staff with critical data analysis skills, federal agencies can not only overcome immediate talent shortages but also foster a thriving data-driven culture with a more robust and skilled workforce.

Opening New Doors for Modernization

Over the past several months, the federal government has seen several critical policies and federal initiatives come down the pipeline. Whether it’s the Technology Modernization Fund, the Modernizing Government Technology Act, or the PMA, federal agencies now have more resources than ever before to integrate emerging technologies within the coming years.

The TMF Board recently announced the first three agencies to receive funding, which will be used to support agencies in their cloud migration efforts. However, the General Services Administration recently offered insights for agencies to learn how they can take advantage of the additional $55 million within the TMF.

As agencies embrace cloud adoption, there is a greater need for data literacy across the federal government. This process can be extremely cumbersome, as copious amounts of data must be consolidated and moved to the cloud, making it imperative that employees have a thorough understanding of the data that lives on their network.

Instead of depending on a few experts who hold the keys to the data kingdom, the greater federal workforce can all contribute to the federal government’s modernization efforts.

The Next Phase in Modernization  

In the PMA, the administration called upon agency heads and CIOs to establish a robust IT vision. Widespread data literacy will enable not only entry-level staff but federal workers of any rank or level up to the very top of agencies or departments, to make effective decisions using data analysis and technology with less assistance from data scientists.

It’s vital that as the government transforms, it must also invest in the transformation of its workforce. By working together, industry and agency leaders can ensure all federal employees are data literate to further the momentum of modernization and guide the way to the much-needed digital transformation across the federal government.  

Andrew Churchill is vice president of federal sales for Qlik.