GSA piloting agencywide data cloud

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The General Services Administration is developing a data-as-an-asset platform in the cloud to drive enterprisewide consistency in the reporting of its various business lines’ information.

Kris Rowley, appointed GSA chief data officer in April, is piloting the project with the guidance of new agency data steering committee.

Rowley told FedScoop in an exclusive interview at the GSA headquarters about his plans to standardize GSA’s data environment so that no matter who — GSA personnel or other agency clients — views the data, when or where, they will get the same experience.

“We have several data warehouse environments, where data is being consumed from all these transaction systems, and then being pushed out in a variety of reports,” he said. “The business rules were not connected, the timing of the reporting information that was being released was inconsistent, which as it funneled up the chain, you’d get one report that had information X and another report that had information Y, and they’re supposed to be exactly the same, but they were not.”

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Kris Rowley served at GSA for about 18 months before being promoted to its first CDO. (GSA)

Most of GSA’s enterprise data across its varying business lines — like the Public Buildings Service, the Federal Acquisition Service and the Office of Governmentwide Policy — will be housed in this cloud platform, and be accessible to the same analytics tools, “so that no matter what report is being shown to what executive, it’s pulling the exact same data to reflect the same information,” Rowley said.

Integral to this goal of enterprisewide data consistency is the collaboration of seemingly disparate data sets under the ownership of different GSA businesses. Offices like PBS and FAS are “all supporting the same agencies; they have the same clientele and customers,” Rowley said.

This is a major piece of Chief Information Officer David Shive’s enterprisewide data management program that he expects will give the agency a broader perspective of the less obvious trends affecting its business from end to end. And when the agency or its customers look to combine the data among different offices, the cloud-based data-as-an-asset platform ensures “a consistent presentation of that information in the way in which it is presented,” Rowley told FedScoop.

Whether a regional GSA office is exploring data on an agency’s expiring leases or new acquisitions from the same agency, “it’s being shown with some level of consistency so our internal management can start to become more comfortable with the way in which they consume data,” he said.

Currently, there are a few dozen rolled out across GSA, and most of the data sets focus on numerical, transactional elements. “We’ve touched every business line at least once,” the CDO said. “Everyone is currently using the technologies and the platform in some way, some more aggressively than others. But everyone is starting to rally around this approach.” Rowley said he’s still “looking for an optimal hosting environment” as well. And the security behind it all, Rowley believes, “will be more secure than our on-premises data warehouse environments.”

In the first phases of the project, the intent is to get GSA offices comfortable with the platform and create that consistent data environment. As a residual benefit, Rowley hopes this “more robust review of our inventory” will also result in more data flowing through to Data.gov. Eventually, his office will begin to integrate more unstructured types of data, like documents, into the platform. Beyond the numerical, transactional data on things like leased buildings, a user could drill down into documents, like the blueprints the buildings were base on or their leasing agreements, he said.

But perhaps the most vital piece to making this cloud data-reporting platform successful is bringing this all together without altering any business’ operations, he said.

“I’m trying to do it in a way that’s transparent to these business owners that the way in which they do business shouldn’t change,” Rowley said. “I shouldn’t be impacting the way in which someone goes about their day-to-day job. I should just be making their reporting capabilities and providing information to the decision-makers at GSA more easier and transparent.”

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