Formalizing the roles of Federal agency chief data officers (CDO) – a relatively new position for many Federal agencies – is well underway but still far from finished, two agency CDOs indicated on Sept. 16 at the Professional Services Council’s Tech Trends Conference.

Kris Rowley, CDO at the General Services Administration (GSA), said that the process of working out the roles and objectives of CDOs within their organizations may take a year or two, and he recommended that outcomes of that effort should be results-focused.

“How do CDOs formalize data policy?” asked Rowley, answering, “Those talks should not be technical, but instead should be business-focused … People are looking for the value proposition.”

He recommended discussions that define acceptable data quality. “The key is better open data, then you can do lots of stuff with it,” he said.

Eileen Vidrine, CDO at U.S. Air Force, agreed, saying, “the key is making data open and available.” At the Air Force, she is focused on “giving airmen what they need to do their job.” She added, “it’s not just about the volume of data.”

The goal of making greater and wider uses of data can collide with long-held practice, Vidrine said. “Getting the Air Force to share data that they have always closely guarded” is not always easy, she indicated. “Going forward, it’s about a balance,” she said.

At the agency business level, Rowley said, “people are really beginning to understand data integration” that involves multiple data sources, and that “maturity is starting to evolve” on that front with agency managers.

And as with all areas of IT, the need for a skilled workforce remains an important consideration, both CDOs said.

“Yes, we will be hiring some more, and yes, we will be procuring more” private-sector help to fill gaps, Rowley said. He added that better definitions of data science tiers and roles may lead to improved hiring processes.

“We are playing catch-up and competing against the private sector,” said Vidrine. “You have to have an agile hiring process,” she said.

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