President Donald Trump’s fiscal year 2020 budget and management agenda have a clear message to send: 2019 is going to be a landmark year for data and information management.
With agencies already overhauling their electronic records management capabilities in order to meet the National Archives and Records Administration’s 2019 and 2022 deadlines, the government is laying further building blocks for information modernization. This year’s budget proposal further solidifies the importance of IT funding and IT modernization, especially in the context of meeting the administration’s cross-agency priority (CAP) goals.
A chief focus for this budget is the new CAP goal Leveraging Data as a Strategic Asset. This recognizes the value of modern, accessible federal data, and calls for the development of a long-term enterprisewide Federal Data Strategy. The Federal Data Strategy seeks to define principles, practices and a year one action plan for delivering a more consistent approach to federal data stewardship, use and access.
All of this illustrates what Federal CIO Suzette Kent has repeatedly stated, that the administration sees 2019 as a major push year for federal data policy, especially coming off the modernization initiatives in 2018. Kent has also highlighted the importance of investing in key supporting technologies that will be instrumental to the success of the Federal Data Strategy, such as data hygiene, automation and AI/machine learning.
The foremost immediate priority for agencies is to ensure proper data hygiene and metadata best practices, as this will serve as the foundation for many other capabilities. Metadata is vital to managing, accessing and eventually tracking information throughout its lifecycle. It tells agencies important information about their records, such as what information and content they own and what characteristics it possesses. Metadata ultimately ensures agency records are exported in a standardized, usable format. Attaching metadata to information at origination greatly helps agencies track information throughout its lifecycle, assign retention rules and privacy requirements, and earmarks it for use with artificial intelligence capabilities.
Workflow automation starts by capturing information at creation, managing and accessing that information effectively, integrating automation into business processes, and measuring and storing what is needed. It simplifies content-heavy processes and can help agencies with contract management, Freedom of Information Act response, employee file management and vendor management, and document management, among other activities.
It eliminates manual processes that are slow and inefficient, interrupting other work and increasing the amount of time it takes to get work done. Some agencies have already begun transitioning from manual to automated processes, which has allowed them to access documents more quickly, increase staff efficiency and productivity, and ensure the consistent capture and management of information. Ancillary benefits include increased information security, increased agency and public records accessibility, higher levels of scalability, and significant cost-savings. All of these benefits strongly support the CAP’s goal to better leverage data as a strategic asset.
Machine Learning-based classification of physical and digital information helps agencies to add structure, context and metadata to their information. This primarily helps agencies increase the overall usability of information, prevent data silos from forming, identify current data silos and the information contained in them, and merge existing silos to better use data as a strategic asset. Classified and tagged data is then capable of supporting enhanced automated governance and workflow throughout the agency, aiding agencies in more efficiently conducting searches and tracking requests.
Although not everyone currently has the capabilities, processes and technology in place to support artificial intelligence and machine learning, those should be primary end-game goals for every agency. Getting agencies to that point is going to require a heavy lift initially, but the results will be transformative.
The administration has shown agencies that 2019 is going to be a disruptive year for federal information management. Over the past few years, agencies have worked hard to meet multiple NARA deadlines, transitioning away from paper-based information and steadily supporting electronic records and born-digital information. This year they will begin to see the payoff of those efforts as that new digital records foundation begins to support the pillars of the Federal Data Strategy. Although agencies have more work to do before they can rest, this year is giving them their first sight of a brighter future beyond.
April Chen is director of strategic solutions at enterprise information management company Iron Mountain.