The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) first started operations on July 21, 2011, amid the modern data boom. Shannon Files, the director of Enterprise Data Services for CFPB, shared just how the agency built out a data platform as a “startup” agency.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by REI Systems today, Files said the secret to her agency’s early leg up in the data realm was starting as a 21st century agency, with a data team from the very first day.

“We started initially with a data team right off the bat, which I think is very important. We made that commitment to data right off the bat, and that team continued to grow,” Files said. “Our platforms and our team kind of grew into that space as new technologies were coming into the fold, as new focuses were coming into the fold. We built a data platform from the ground up and as the space was growing that helped inform what we built.”

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When it comes to the data science hierarchy of needs pyramid, Files said CFPB wanted to jump to the top of the pyramid, such as AI, as quickly as possible. However, she stressed the importance of building the foundation of the pyramid first, such as building out data systems, cleaning data, and being able to have data flow from source to destination.

“You have to build a foundation before you can really reach [the top],” Files said. “We tried to jump to the top, and we kind of filled in the cracks in between like our foundation and getting to that AI space.”

“We focused on big data early on,” she added. “We just kind of were able to focus on that from the onset, I think just because of where we started, where we landed in the data space.”

Files noted that collaboration with other agencies helped CFPB build out its data quickly. Initially, CFPB had an interim affiliation with the Department of the Treasury in which it could leverage some of the agency’s systems and network to get started.

“We tried to set up memorandums of understanding with different agencies to try to start really quickly doing some data sharing, to have something to build off,” Files said. “It’s also just very important to have relationships with other partner agencies throughout the government.”

Files also noted her agency was able to act like a “startup” because it didn’t have any legacy systems it had to migrate off of, “which made it a lot easier.” However, CFPB did start with its data platform on-prem, so the agency’s current focus is a cloud migration.

“There’s different tools that are more available and a lot of different folks within the industry are taking advantage of the ability to be elastic and scale that the cloud gives you that you don’t necessarily have on-prem,” Files said. “We’re changing around some of our tooling because more is now unlocked within the cloud space.”

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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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