DISA looks to spur enterprise data access, sharing with new CDO Office

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Paul Coffy (center, seated) views the status of the virtual exercise environment as two West Virginia University students and U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Adam Brenner (right) observe. Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Mallory Coleman)

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The Department of Defense‘s IT support agency has established an Office of the Chief Data Officer to enhance the sharing and integration of data across the organization — and the wider DOD — to better put the information that warfighters need “at their fingertips.”

The Defense Information Systems Agency stood up its Office of the Chief Data Officer about seven months ago as part of its larger restructuring to think about how the agency can more effectively leverage its data as a strategic asset, Caroline Kuharske, DISA’s deputy chief data officer, said last week at AFCEA’s annual TechNet conference.

Since its launch, very little information has been shared about the office, Kuharske admitted. “This is kind of like our … coming out party,” she said of her presentation at the conference in Baltimore.

Until DISA hires a CDO, Kuharske as deputy is taking the lead of the office and its staff of about 20. For now, it’s “a new office that we’re building from the ground up,” she said.

Currently, data is an “afterthought” for DISA and other defense agencies and services, Kuharske said, contrasting data integration and management with DISA’s management of its physical IT assets.

“We have tons of solutions to make sure we know where all of those things are and how they’re tagged. And we have all this information on them,” she said. “Why aren’t we really doing that with our data holistically across the board? We do have some cyber analytics that are doing wonderful things within the agency. But we need to be able to combine that — not just cyber, not just business, but all of it. And that’s really what my office is going to really start pushing for, that data sharing and that data access across the board.”

At its simplest, the office’s goal is to advocate for and support the DOD enterprise in thinking differently about data, Kuharske explained. “It’s not just ones and zeros. This is a tangible entity that we can derive value from once we start putting things together.”

But to get there, the office needs to give structure to data stewards and users across the agency in the form of governance, she said. The new office must implement a “governance and policy framework for the agency so that they know the parameters that they should be working in whenever it comes to data,” she added.

Kuharske expressed that her office has the support of DISA leadership, including Lt. Gen. Robert Skinner, director of the agency, who earlier last week said “if you own the data, you own the high ground” while presenting his strategic plan for the agency to industry.

Roger Greenwell, CIO and director of DISA’s new Enterprise Integration and Innovation Center, the larger organization the CDO office sits under, said data is central to so much of what DISA aims to accomplish in Skinner’s new strategic plan. “When we look at the lines of efforts Gen. Skinner has established for the agency, we recognize that use of data as a center of gravity is so very important to everything that we’re going to be working to accomplish.”

Kuharske said the Office of the CDO will know it’s successful when the people who need data no longer have to call on another organization to obtain that data but instead can pull it from a common, open platform, a vision that she said is in line with the DOD’s new data decrees.

“Whenever I don’t have to call for people to get information for one report, I think that’s when I’m pretty successful, right?” said Kuharske. “When we’re able to give this data to individuals at their fingertips. I think that’s fantastic.”

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Caroline Kuharske, chief data officer (CDO), Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA), Department of Defense (DOD), Robert Skinner, Roger Greenwell
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