WASHINGTON — The Department of Defense is on its way to creating a data centric future and keeping pace with adversaries, the Pentagon’s chief data officer said.

The department has kicked off several initiatives that demonstrate it is serious about maintaining an edge on data and making sense of information faster than adversaries, Chief Data Officer David Spirk told reporters in a Jan. 5 event hosted by the Defense Writers Group.

In order to successfully compete with advanced nations such as China, the U.S. will need to operate with speed, he said.

“It’s about speed and if you don’t organize your data, if you can’t create repeatable, testable, and trusted data workflows from the tactical edge all the way up to your senior most decision making boardroom activities, then you will just lag behind,” Spirk said. “We’ve seen this in industry. It’s really no different in the strategic competition with other nation states who have an ability to harness their data and can access the compute required to actually do something with it. When I look at our adversaries, they now have the same ability that the commercial sector has to harness massive amounts of data and generate decision advantage with them.”

Spirk noted that if the department continues to accelerate on its data journey, it will remain the pacing threat for the rest of the world.

Spirk highlighted the recent creation of a chief data and artificial intelligence office, or CDAO, as key to demonstrating what the department’s data driven future looks like.

“The deputy secretary of defense has even now decided … that we are going to create a chief digital and artificial intelligence office [that] will bring together, at a minimum, the components of the Defense Digital Service, the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center and the chief data office so that we can move even more aggressively and faster into this data centric future for the department,” he said.

Officials say bringing those three organizations under one office will break down stovepipes and drive faster progress in those areas.

“I don’t view it as a bureaucracy. If anything, I think the establishment of this activity knocks down some bureaucratic walls because it puts all of us under one vision that a CDAO can come in and lead,” he explained. “What I think this means is the [deputy secretary of defense] is doubling down again on [a] data driven future for the department and ensuring this isn’t a passing fad.”

The CDAO was preceded by the DoD’s “Creating Data Advantage” memo in May. Spirk described the memo as a “seminal moment” for the department, in which Deputy Defense Secretary Kathleen Hicks articulated a clear vision ahead.

It is still unclear who will lead the new office.

Mark Pomerleau is a reporter for C4ISRNET, covering information warfare and cyberspace.

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