Becoming a Data-Driven Federal Government

  • National Newswatch

In the age of cloud computing, technology is playing a major role in empowering governments to be the data-driven organizations that they aspire to be. Data is central to the functioning of any government and informs nearly everything to do with an agency's mission.The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) reiterated the importance of data in achieving citizen service goals in its refreshed information technology strategic vision- The Government of Canada's Digital Ambition. The vision aims to achieve simpler, trusted, digitally driven services through government wide data integration and management.But ensuring data in all its forms can meaningfully translate into a core tool of policy is easier said than done.  Every government wants to be data driven but in practice, what does government really need to do?Governments don't lack data. It comes from an overwhelming and ever-growing array of sources. To truly become a data-driven organization, the federal government must tackle the practical challenges related to data collection, usability, sharing, interoperability, and accessibility, along with the cultural and legislative changes required to use it effectively.From a technical standpoint, data governance and usability need to be considered at every data pipeline stage. This means from collection and entry to management and administration, analysis, and reporting.Principal among the challenges surrounding data usability is quality. Given numerous inputs, differing strategies, and broad administrative challenges – data can be gathered in different forms and types, which makes it difficult for systems to talk to each other.Additionally, data proximity or “availability” is crucial.  It's important to make decisions based on real- time, updated and good-quality data, and to avoid fixation on single, siloed data points that may not capture the full or latest picture of a given government program. An overwhelming amount of data resides where it is created, serving a functional, but not forward-looking process.To get the most out of data, agencies need a modernized data management framework that incorporates the latest technology. Our approach at Oracle to this framework is centered around the data mesh platform. The data mesh platform moves away from monolithic and complex architectures and embraces distributed data architecture, centralized governance, standardized interoperability, and self-service analytics.What this means in practice is that the business or government starts to think about and manage data as a product and tangible asset. The platform links data producers directly to business users, intentionally removing the IT middleman from the projects and processes ingesting, preparing, and transforming the data. This means that organizations can get the most out of their data through applied 'data product thinking'. It creates a faster business innovation cycle by reducing the time and complexity from the ingestion of data to when it is used.However, it is never as easy as simply standing up new technology. A culture change is also required. The Government of Canada's Data Strategy Roadmap highlights some of the key factors that will be necessary to successfully capitalize on government data, including stronger governance, and improved data literacy and skills. Once equipped with the technology, government personnel must be able to share and use data and be adequately trained if they're to leverage its full potential. Technology is one step, but the culture shift is the leap forward. That is why collaboration between the public and private sectors is so important.This year, the Standing Committee on Access to Information, Privacy and Ethics (ETHI) actively reviewed the use of data by public and private sectors, specifically related to the use of disaggregated data from cell phone towers. Despite the current focus, as parliamentarians review this situation, it brings to light the role of trust and the need for broader reassurance from organizations that interact with data in the public sector. As Canada endeavors to inform its policies with data, the value, appropriate use, and potential of data needs to be understood and valued by the public. Trust is something that technology and training cannot resolve.Randy Whitcroft, Regional Vice- President Federal & Canada East, Oracle Canada