How COTS Products Can Drive Data Innovation at Government Agencies

Stephanie Meloni_65x85by Stephanie Meloni, Senior Analyst

At How COTS Products Can Drive Data Innovation at Government AgenciesAFCEA Bethesda’s 4th Annual Data Symposium last week, civilian agencies with data-centric missions gathered to talk data strategy, solution implementation, and share success stories. This event came on the heels of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) and Health Data Consortium’s Datapaloozas, demonstrating government agencies’ continuing emphasis on transitioning to a data-driven culture.

Daniel Morgan, the Chief Data Officer at the DOT, reported that his agency is shifting its analytics focus from retrospective to prospective  The Department wants to use data analytics to become more forward-thinking with urban planning, car and road safety, and other transportation projects. They want to use historical data to solve future problems. Taking this more proactive approach doesn’t necessarily mean using the latest-available technology or fancy applications. Often DOT’s challenge is just getting the data released in order to improve safety. Morgan reported agencies with a safety mission are better at sharing data than other agencies, but this is still an area with room for improvement and the DOT will be developing tools to help the agency better release its data.

At the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Greg Godbout, the Chief Information Officer, said his agency is still in its infancy stages of pulling data together for analysis, but overall wants to organize the CIO office around data analytics, the Internet of Things, and crowd-sourced science to get citizens involved in using the EPA’s data to improve their services and drive mission requirements.

So how can COTS products help support these types of initiatives? The government agencies represented at this event were all interested in automated solutions. The concept of Big Data can be overwhelming to the government, so they are interested in data solutions that can be packaged in simple ways. Automation is plays a crucial role in making data easier for them to manipulate. Agencies with a safety mission are also going to be especially dependent on visualization tools to help them make fast decisions about life-threatening issues. Another challenge that was brought up, was the need for solutions that let them work with large volumes of data despite hardware and software bandwidth constraints.

Daniel Morgan also mentioned data products need to be aligned to decision making, which is the founding principal of analytics tools. Vendors approaching agencies with data solutions need to tailor their messaging to how the application of their tools will help agencies advance their mission, as opposed to only focusing on what the technology can do in general terms. Government agencies are not only interested in any and all tools that can help them use their data more effectively, but are first and foremost focused on the actual application of data tools. Keeping this in mind, make sure you’re showcasing mission relevant demonstrations on how your products can ask the right questions of customer data sets to improve decision-making.

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