Federal chief data officers (CDOs) agree that in order to move to a data-centric future, Federal agencies need to invest in a data-driven leadership and workforce as the “first step” in their digital modernization journeys.

During ACT-IAC’s “Data Driven Forum” on May 4, Federal CDOs discussed how they balance their agencies’ culture and data managers to come together as a cohesive unit.

“Data quality, data management, data access – those are technical implementation challenges that people are motivated to solve when they see that leaders will use data to make decisions about things in which they have equity,” Clark Cully, acting deputy CDO at the Department of Defense (DoD), said. “So, that demand signal is the first step. And that gets us started on the journey. It takes data from being about buzzwords or technology fairy dust to being a real tool and a real asset that shows up in real meetings.”

“Now, to sustain that transformation takes investment in the workforce and one of the areas in which we continue to struggle is properly prioritizing data talent and training our human capital,” Cully added. “We see this as a key linchpin to sustaining this transformation, increasing the diversity of our workforce, and increasing the quality of tools and services that we can empower and equip our staff in the long term. So, it starts with leadership, but it’s sustained on the back of the data acumen in which we create in our workforce.”

Ronald Thompson, CDO at NASA said data is at the center of everything his agency does. He stressed the workforce is a “critical part” of ensuring NASA’s data is consistent and trustworthy.

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“We’re transforming our workforce and workplace, using data as a strategic asset,” Thompson said. “If you look at how data works for NASA, it is the jet fuel that actually runs the agency.”

Thompson said through NASA’s investments in its workforce, his agency is actually seeing the younger workforce is more committed to data-driven decisions and transparency.

“We’re investing a lot as an organization in culture and workforce as part of our digital transformation effort,” Thompson said. “We are seeing a turn from our young workforce coming in. They’re demanding that we start with transparency. The senior leaders know we can’t sustain the way we’ve always done it, so we’re really working on that middle opportunity of why we need to change and really making sure folks understand the value of what we bring.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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