DISA releases new Data Strategy Implementation Plan, pushes for improved data architecture

By Devon L. Suits
Office of Strategic Communication and Public Affairs

August 30, 2022 

Defense Information Systems Agency leaders have recently released a new plan to improve the state of the agency’s data integration and utilization, information technology, and network capabilities.

Under the new DISA Data Strategy Implementation Plan (IPlan), the agency will target its capability to leverage data as a strategic asset in line with the DISA Strategic Plan for Fiscal Year 2022-2024, said Caroline Kuharske, acting DISA chief data officer.

"The IPlan will guide how DISA will manage and exploit data as a critical asset to deliver agile digital capabilities to the nation's warfighter and achieve information dominance," Kuharske said.

The implementation plan is divided into four lines of effort that meet the goals and objectives set by the Department of Defense Chief Information Officer under the DOD Data Strategy. IPlan lines of effort include:

Line of effort 1 -- Data Architecture & Governance

Line of effort 2 -- Advanced Analytics

Line of effort 3 -- Data Culture

Line of effort 4 -- Knowledge Management

A push for data architecture and governance

Proper data management can provide the warfighter with a critical advantage, which furthers DISA’s need to develop effective methods to exploit data assets to meet mission requirements, Kuharske said.

However, the agency's capacity to exploit data as an asset -- hinges on DISA's ability to properly manage its data as an asset, Kuharske explained. Data assets must be visible, accessible, understandable, linked, trusted, interoperable and secure. 

"To put this in context, if a data asset happened to be a M1 Abrams tank, the military would dedicate a wealth of personnel and systems to keep the vehicle operational," Kuharske said.

The lifecycle management process includes, but is not limited to, research and development, operations and maintenance, support and disposal, and acquisition and production.

“Data assets require a similar level of life-cycle support as we refine DISA's systems architecture and develop new governance standards," she added. “As a combat support agency, we must continue to engage with industry experts, large and small businesses, academic experts, and other data-centric organizations to improve future data capabilities and ensure our systems and standards match current data capabilities.” 

Moving forward, the Office of the Chief Data Officer will work to unravel DISA's current state of data architecture and rebuild it into a cohesive system that enables transparency, data sharing and encourages data collaboration. Changes will also ensure DISA's data architecture can evolve to meet mission priorities while staying compliant with relevant policy, laws, regulations and best practices.

Advanced analytics

As a data analysis methodology, advanced analytics deploys predictive modeling, machine learning algorithms, business process automation and other statistical approaches to analyze data from various sources.

To be successful, DISA must implement advanced analytics processes as an effective and impactful way to exploit data, as the agency looks to eliminate information silos and connect decision makers in an agile and scalable manner, Kuharske said.

"Advanced analytics can predict patterns and potentially determine the outcome of future events – shifting the agency's ability to be more responsive by increasing the speed and accuracy of the decision-making process," she added.

Analytics enablement is also a critical first step toward building a data-driven culture. To ensure future success, the DISA Office of the Chief Data Officer will establish an Analytics Center of Excellence to identify and set adoption standards across the agency to promote the exploitation of DISA data assets.

Building a data-driven culture

To be successful, DISA will first require a fundamental shift in its culture while the agency redefines its relationship with its data, Kuharske said. A data-driven organization recognizes the inherent value in all data -- and can consistently leverage its data assets to further its business strategy into positive and measurable outcomes.

"For example, envision a vehicle assembly line. As the workforce assembles each component, each team's role and responsibility is to get it right before the vehicle comes together." Kuharske explained.

"If a car component is missing pieces or contains bad parts, the vehicle will not operate correctly," she added. "The same can be said about DISA's data culture. We need everyone to do their part to ensure the quality and fidelity of our data as we integrate it into our business processes."

Implementing a data-driven culture across the agency will require a well-trained, knowledgeable and data-aware workforce, Kuharske said.

"Developing a data-driven culture will take time. It starts with the IPlan, which sets a clear vision as DISA works to build a data-centric organization," Kuharske said. "We hope to build an environment that encourages the workforce to collaborate and keep data at the center of the decision-making process."  

The IPlan also identifies the need for data stewards who will ensure the proper collection of metadata that meets standards set by DISA's Office of Chief Data Officer. The agency must establish modern data governance and stewardship programs to ensure that data assets are fully employed and positioned correctly to meet mission outcomes quickly.

"Data stewards are a core component to the success of DISA's data evolution," Kuharske emphasized. "We are currently developing data management, data scientist, and data advanced-analytic focused training and certifications for the agency, which will provide stewards with the resources and training they will need to excel in data management."

Knowledge management

The IPlan final line of effort, Knowledge Management, is the practice of organizing and sharing data, information, instructions and lessons learned to improve the decision-making process at all levels of an organization.

Knowledge management is a catalyst for processes development and ensures communication and understanding of the director's intent across the agency. They make authoritative data and information easily accessible to the workforce and provide a process by which data and information are quickly updated and distributed.

Knowledge management will accelerate the agency's ability to influence intentional growth and facilitate decision making. With knowledge management practices, information can be shared in a fluid manner allowing the workforce to have the data they need at the time they need it.

"With a better data maturity, DISA will become more cost efficient, will see a higher percentage in productivity, secure data from our adversaries, and ensure accurate decisions are made," Kuharske said.

"These skills will help DISA provide the nation's warfighters with the best service possible," she added. Lt. Gen. Robert J. Skinner, DISA director and Joint Force Headquarters-Department of Defense Information Network commander, once said, 'If you own the data, you own the high ground.' And that is how we will win the fight."


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