Agencies need an an easy way for employees to access data while balancing ongoing privacy and security concerns.
The federal government likely collects more data than any organization on Earth.
While the types and amounts of data vary by agency, government data analysts find themselves awash in possibilities and opportunities. The challenge then becomes how to best work with this wealth of information for the public good, using data to create programs and policies that help citizens and improve the efficiency of government operations.
Like the private sector, public-sectors organizations have moved toward the idea of self-service analytics. Agencies want to provide an easy way for employees to access data while balancing ongoing privacy and security concerns. Security is especially critical for the federal government, which remains a major target of online data thieves thanks to its wealth of personally identifiable information, proprietary and intellectual property data and national security information.
Let’s look at some best practices that agencies can use to create a strong balance between making valuable data both accessible and secure.
A focus on the object level
Security concerns challenge many organizations to make self-service data available. One of the main issues is data classification, something especially relevant in the federal space.
One important consideration for agencies: ensuring that employees of all security classifications have proper access to the same interface. Agencies should not create different interfaces based on the security considerations of a whole file but instead build security around an individual data object.
Restricting access to an entire file because of a small number of data points creates usability problems. Instead, agencies should focus on the object. That way, personnel with the proper permissions can see the data available to them while the rest will remain inaccessible. This keeps a single platform for data and ensures all analysts with the same security level work from the same structure.
Another best practice follows similar guidance. Agencies must allow access to as much data as they can. To do so, they must normalize data within a common framework of definitions to ensure continuity. This could be as simple as standardizing which states make up a region, or as complex as defining a calculation to predict fraud.
By creating these standards, agencies can use the same language and generate visualizations based on a solid framework. Doing so helps ensure the data presented remains consistent and provides an accurate analysis based on correct and complete data.
Building a more mature model
Agencies must prioritize both access and security. Guided by a strong data strategy, they must make technology investments and policy decisions that create the environment they desire.
While too many government organizations find themselves with immature analytics operations, they struggle to take the necessary steps forward, perhaps feeling that any efforts to improve performance will fall short of the latest advances. If they decide not to invest in analytics before properly organizing data, for example, they are letting perfection get in the way of progress.
As governments start hiring chief data officers, this should change. Agencies behind the maturity curve should look to take whatever advances they can and not wait for a silver bullet. Analytics technologies will continue to advance, and just waiting leaves them further behind.
The role of analytics is too important. It can improve agency efficiency, limit fraud, waste and abuse, ensure the proper distribution of grants or manage comprehensive resources, to name a few. There is no shortage of ways that analytics can help an agency’s bottom line.
The move toward self-service analytics has been in motion now for more than a decade. Private-sector companies have already taken great strides to create these environments. With the government’s massive stores of data, secure analytics tools can help it find untold cost savings and efficiencies.
Let’s start to use them and spur positive change.
Rick “Ozzie” Nelson, Senior VP & General Manager, Public Sector with MicroStrategy.