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INDUSTRY INSIGHT

CDOs move the needle on data strategy

The final Federal Data Strategy 2020 Action Plan has been released, providing chief data officers across the federal government with a clear understanding of what they should be working toward this year. However, the objectives for 2020 are not crystal clear, which begs the question: “What did CDOs do right?”

The requirement for a CDO in every federal agency was cemented in statute (H.R. 4174) by the 115th Congress. The CDO's responsibilities are vast and cross nearly every department in an agency, which consequently left them quite vague. For example, the primary mission of the CDO is to fulfil the promise of the OPEN Government Data Act (H.R. 1770), making a data catalog available to the public and private sectors, while driving informed collaboration and innovation within the agency. 

This is a huge task that will take years of careful and deliberate development of processes, tools and scope to ensure that the right data is democratized in the right way for the right consumers. Often in the public sector, a revolutionary vision languishes for years as the legislative machine catches up to the innovative spirit. So as an industry, most of us were elated to see the distinct fingerprints of the agency CDOs on the latest developments of the Federal Data Strategy. 

The draft Federal Data Strategy included 16 actions that engineers might call “squishy,” because they were designed to get agency CIOs and CDOs thinking about the types of data they wanted to target and the objectives they thought should be pursued. Key actions included assessing infrastructure maturity, institutionalizing data governance and making individual progress towards understanding the data goals for their agency. These goals are all internal with few deliverables and almost no accountability to the greater objectives of the Federal Data Strategy. 

The 20 actions in the final plan, released on Dec. 23, 2019, are divided among the agency, community, and shared solution sets, and they are designed to be measurable and actionable. These actions represent not only that action is being taken, but that the goal is set and the path -- at least for now -- is known. CDOs across government expressed their opinions about what they want to build, what they need to learn and how they plan to move forward on those foundational actions over the next 12 months.

I will be paying very close attention to the Federal Data Strategy this year, and I think we should all be excited about the path to a better, more innovative and more collaborative future that is coming into view.

About the Author

Nicholas Speece is chief federal technologist with Snowflake.

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