DOD publishes long-anticipated data strategy

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The Department of Defense published its first data strategy Thursday, calling for a broad cultural shift across the military to use data at every echelon in support of warfighting.

Developed under the leadership of new DOD Chief Data Officer Dave Spirk, the strategy repeats common calls from technology leaders in the military to use data as a “strategic asset” and to make “data available” for all users — but it adds a new emphasis on data’s use in war.

The strategy comes after Spirk went on a listening tour across the department to find ways for the military to use data as a warfighting tool.

Now the DOD is turning to implement the cultural shifts that are required to make the department’s goals reality under the single strategy. A senior defense official described the strategy as an “overarching vision” that will need time to become the reality, but Spirk is working with the DOD Office of the CIO to implement it across the department.

“The [DOD CIO Dana Deasy] gave me clear guidance to focus early efforts on data for joint warfighting. The Strategy’s emphasis will allow us to concentrate on that. It reinforces DOD’s priority focus areas of joint warfighting, senior leader decision support, and data analytics,” Spirk said in a statement.

Questions over data security, cultural silos and bureaucratic morasses have often stymied DOD’s data-sharing efforts in the past. Defense officials have expressed that the DOD still has a long way to go in realizing many of the goals in the strategy, like making large databases more widely available and creating military-wide standard application programming interfaces (APIs).

But the new strategy is a first step in the right direction. “This does mean that we need to acknowledge that data is the ammo of the future,” Spirk said.

Data for the back-end, AI

Along with the operational initiatives, the DOD is also working to integrate data analytics to back-end business systems and broader decision-making tools. The strategy calls for the creation of practices that will give leaders broader insight into their business decisions and wider access to “understandable data.”

“Delivering increased business performance means the Department must end outdated data practices,” the strategy states.

The “appropriate mechanism” for sharing data across the department, as the strategy calls for, is still being defined. During a recent virtual summit, Spirk described “live data dashboards” as the future of senior leader decision making.

To work on further implementation of the strategy, Spirk said he expanded the military’s CDO Council to include not just department-level CDOs, but also data leaders from combatant commands and other components of the DOD.

“I want to personally have a conversation with every data leader across the department and understand whether they consider themselves a CDO,” Spirk said of his plans over the next several weeks.

Building training sets and data that will be useable for AI also plays heavily in the strategy.

One of the strategy’s eight principles is making “data for artificial intelligence training.” Senior leaders have put AI at the top of the department’s priority list for emerging technology. Technology leaders have been quick to point out that AI needs massive amounts of data to be useable.

“The DoD Chief Data Officer (CDO), in partnership with DoD Components, will create a modern governance framework for managing the lifecycle of the algorithm models and associated data that provides protected visibility and responsible brokerage of these digital assets,” the strategy states.

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big data, CDO Council, chief data officer (CDO), Dana Deasy, Dave Spirk, Department of Defense (DOD)
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