David Markowitz, the U.S. Army’s chief data officer (CDO) and analytics officer, said today that the service branch is closing in on publicly releasing further details about its data plan including governance issues and major objectives.

The Army CDO talked about those plans and other aspects of his office’s work during a Feb. 23 FCW event. He focused his remarks on one of the broader objectives unveiled earlier this month by Army Secretary Christine Wormuth.

Wormuth on Feb. 8 issued her six major objectives to help guide the Army into the future, featuring one big challenge for its technology operations – ensuring that the Army can become more data-centric and can conduct operations in contested environments. “Succeeding in that task, she said, will “enable our ability to prevail on the future battlefield.”

Markowitz said today that the data-related objective is “very similar, or aligns with, the Deputy Secretary of Defense’s goal of creating data advantage and making data a strategic asset to inform both operations as well as our Title 10 force generation and readiness activities.”

He said the policy aims to “make better decisions at echelon, to make them faster, to integrate vast amounts of information, and to really to out-think any adversary we may face.”

Because the Army conducts multi-domain operations, he said the goal also means “integrating lots of different pieces of information for decision-making – more information than we’re normally used to.” He continued, “that includes not only the traditional maneuver of forces, fires, logistics, but also cyberspace operations, [and] interagency input to provide all that information to commanders and to our soldiers so they can outpace and out-think in the modern battlefield.”

Markowitz said the latest policy also aligns with the previous direction on evidence-based policymaking, “which identified really how to use data throughout … traditional processes. The Secretary has really expanded that to include our operational activities as well.”

The Army CDO reminded that the service branch released its digital transformation strategy last fall, which also defines data as a strategic asset.

“We’re about to publish in a more releasable form the Army data plan,” Markowitz said. He said that plan has already been incorporated into “a series of orders we’ve given to the force, and it has identified issues where we’re going to focus our data efforts to identify governance issues and major objectives that we’re trying to achieve.”

Three Keys to Implementation

Key to implementing the Army Secretary’s new vision, Markowitz said, is providing new skills to personnel, undertaking cultural changes, and then “building a foundation” for more data use.

On the personnel front, he said the cross-cutting aspect of data reveals the need for “general skills that are needed across the force,” along with more specialized skills.

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“We kind of have almost like these two tiers, and we’ve been in a real process for identifying what are the skills that are kind of at a higher echelon” for data professionals, and “then what skills do we need really across all of our subject matter experts,” he said.

“We’re certainly finding that in many ways it’s easier to upskill some of our subject matter experts and provide them increased data capability to make them kind of a premier analyst,” Markowitz said. He added, “we are still seeing some need for very specialized data skills for data engineering, and really some of the lifecycle data management activities that we that the Army needs.”

Regarding the culture aspect of the task, Markowitz commented, “it takes everyone to move the Army, and culture is a key component … [treating] data as an asset or a valuable product is kind of our larger cultural change.”

“We’ve had in the Army increased awareness to share information,” he said. “But we’re in the process of changing our view of not just data as digital exhaust, to more something that needs to be collected and curated.”

And with foundation building, Markowitz said that involves creating “a governance structure identifying roles and responsibilities of data leaders in terms of data lifecycle management [and] providing a suite of tools to make data lifecycle management easier.”

Those tools, he said, could include “an enterprise data catalog that gives definitions and some lifecycle management tools, easy-to-use data analytics platforms where people can integrate data relatively easy” and then making data analysis easier through “user interface and dashboard displays, as well as more higher and analytic activities.”

“And then we’re in the process of making an enterprise API that will really assist in providing kind of authoritative data more easily across the Army,” the CDO said.

“We’re not there yet on the last one, we’re in the process of doing some pilots to make sure that’s available for force,” he said.

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John Curran
John Curran
John Curran is MeriTalk's Managing Editor covering the intersection of government and technology.