The real power in data is not in any individual data point; it lies in combining of hundreds or thousands of data points from a wide array of sources, revealing patterns and connecting facts.
Commercial industry figured that out long ago – especially in marketing. The amount of data accessible today, and the ever-growing strength of advanced analytics capabilities, has made data a truly powerful tool. By combining data—some publicly available, some gathered through consent-granted user agreements for software and devices—data scientists can assemble accurate profiles of individuals and demographic groups.
Government agencies increasingly understand the power of data as a strategic asset, an asset that benefits from integration of inputs. The Federal Data Strategy is a key driver of this trend. Agencies want to improve decision-making for the mission and ultimately deliver increased value for the public. However, federal agencies face challenges when converting their data into useful information that commercial interests do not; agencies might miss benefits, such as increased speed and efficiency for improved decision-making.
Agencies have their own practices and, in some cases, regulations about when how and they can share and combine data. If an agency keeps acquisitions and procurement data in one system, human resource and financial information in another and assessments that determine an agency’s performance in support of its mission in a separate place entirely, then its data specialists must determine whether they can harness the power of drawing from all of those data sets.
Sometimes these systems interface; other times, they have firm barriers between them. As with the data in your life, these systems and pieces of data carry varied levels of importance and usefulness. Many agencies rely on their financial systems for the core data used to drive decision support and inform mission and policy choices.
Let’s look at some examples around an agency’s financial system, which typically serves as the federal go-to source for trusted financial data.
Financial data leads to deep insights
Take financial data as an example. In the past, before technology was as powerful and ever-present as it is today, federal agencies’ financial data lived in ledger books, dutifully filled and filed quarter by quarter. Now, that data resides in digital form. Data collection and analysis is not new. However, there is a shift as more agencies are moving from simply collecting, analyzing and owning data to sharing and leveraging it to create transformative impact.
Using financial data proactively and analytically contributes to more timely and accurate information for decision-makers. It leads to clean audit opinions and provides standards for maintaining internal controls and dealing with improper payments.
Drawing on reliable budgetary information, policy analysts develop deeper and more precise insights. Crunching numbers on a project’s cost so far, combined with the projected total cost from a budget system, staffing data from the HR system and contract management information from the acquisition system informs a much more thorough assessment than any one of those data sets alone would enable.
Getting a holistic view of a program requires a multifaceted view. All of this data exists, ready to support improved decision-making.
How data aids acquisition planning
Acquisition planning provides another realm where data analytics can make a dramatic impact. Try zooming out—looking at the data from a wide angle. Taking this broad view can enable program managers to track and report obligation status and provide justification for project continuances to keep their funding levels intact.
You can go even further, though. Combine data on the timing of obligations with the expected pipeline, then add information from the HR system on expected retirements and the average time to hire. By merging those data streams, program managers can make informed resource choices—both short term and the long term. This matters a great deal when faced with an unexpected “must pay” bill in the execution year or while planning a budget justification request for a future year.
Federal agencies have valuable data at their fingertips--data that they can leverage and parse in multiple ways to yield critically important guidance for their operations. Used well, the data could contribute to a stronger, faster and more precise government. It falls to agencies and their industry partners to make the most of the available resources.