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Government Tech Leaders Say ‘Data is the New Oil’

In today’s federal contracting landscape, data is one of the most important and useful assets an organization can leverage. Data coming from multiple endpoints, sources and sensors can provide agencies with critical insights into business processes, IT environments, security and more — if harnessed properly.

Top-level government and industry executives often call data “the new oil,” in reference to the immense value it delivers. “Data is king,” said Jamie Holcombe, chief information officer for the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, in a panel discussion during the GovCon Wire-hosted Innovative and Emerging Technologies Forum

Artificial intelligence, machine learning and automation tools can process data and make it usable for analysts and decision makers. But in order for data to be utilized, it must first be cleaned up, curated and trained correctly. 

“We did start out with a lot of dirty data in our classification project for machine learning,” Holcombe said of a USPTO effort. “And what we found is after about six months, we were getting diminishing returns. So what we really needed to do was clean our data and train the data sets on a golden data set, even if it was supervised learning. You really need to have clean data to start with a good algorithm.”

Melvin Brown, deputy CIO for the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, concurred. “As we start to move into machine learning and as we start to move into automation, data’s going to be key because the automation is only gonna be as smart as the data that we feed it,” he explained.

OPM is working to automate the hiring process and using data to screen applicants, Brown shared. “If you don’t get that data right, then you end up with a pool of mismatched applicants,” he warned, underscoring the importance of curating data to ensure a desired outcome.

Another crucial component of using data is protecting it. Rick Therrien, director of Cybersecurity for the Internal Revenue Service, said, “In IRS, data security is number one. It’s of paramount importance in all of our endeavors, anything we do with IT, anything we do with data as an enterprise — data security is number one.”

Data security is particularly important as agencies move towards hybrid multi-cloud IT environments. Introducing additional cloud service providers can add to an agency’s technical debt and require more layers of security at multiple levels. It can also “introduce a lot of technology seams that you have to manage as an organization,” Therrien mentioned.

“How do we ensure the data security across all of that technical debt and all of that new capability that’s being integrated into the agency?” He posed.

To learn more about innovative and emerging technologies in the federal government, join our sister platform, ExecutiveBiz Events, for its Quantum Technologies Forum on July 28. Dr. John Burke, principal director of quantum science for the Department of Defense will deliver a keynote address and discuss the role of quantum in the future of defense. Register here.

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