WASHINGTON — The Army and Air Force are adjusting how they manage the data they create to ensure they’re collecting information that is most important for future battles. The problem? There’s a lot of data.

Speaking at the C4ISRNET Conference on Wednesday, top data strategists from the two branches stressed the importance of breaking down siloes so components have access to “authoritative” data that can provide strong insights for future war-fighting under the Defense Department’s concept of a connected force across domains.

“That’s part of the governance structure we’ve had to set up,” said David Markowitz, the Army chief data officer, who took over the job in November last year.

He noted the Army’s four core mission areas: war fighting, enterprise IT, business and intelligence. Under each of those, the service is appointing mission area data officers “to understand how different domains work within that mission area,” he said.

The service has also named data stewards in those areas to identify authoritative data.

“So they can identify what is really important that’s shareable across the Army, and then what are the curation standards [to do a] quality control on it,” Markowitz said, adding that there are data managers with other responsibilities as well.

“We’re a big Army [and] certain areas are more mature than others,” Markowitz said.

To demonstrate the size of the task, Markowitz noted that the Army’s human resources center has a “series” of legacy applications that have 800,000 data elements. Just 5,000 could be considered authoritative.

“That’s a huge data terrain simplification,” Markowitz said.

“Our job right now is to make that visible, accessible, understandable and trusted to simplify that data landscape so we can focus on that data that’s important.”

Air Force CDO Eileen Vidrine said her service is building a similar data management structure to ensure it is collecting the most useful information. She highlighted the focus of the Air Force data lab on “enterprise data opportunities” across different use cases.

“What we find is every one of these use cases tend to ask for similar datasets. It has really helped us get laser-focused ... as we talk about improving the quality of our data, where we can make those targeted investments to show the largest return,” Vidrine said.

Markowitz and Vidrine are responsible for overseeing their services’ implementation of the Defense Department’s enterprise data strategy, which is centered on enabling joint war fighting. That concept, in which data will pass between services regardless of domain, requires not just overcoming technological hurdles, but also tackling cultural barriers. Enlisted airmen and soldiers aren’t the only ones who need to think differently about the importance of data; senior leaders need to change their mindsets too.

It’s “not just how to use and optimize your data, but who are your data customers so that you can actually not just be using data to inform your insights, but to make sure that you’re thinking about how we can use it as a big ‘E’ enterprise,” Vidrine said. “Those culture change pieces are critical for the long-term movement.”

Andrew Eversden covers all things defense technology for C4ISRNET. He previously reported on federal IT and cybersecurity for Federal Times and Fifth Domain, and worked as a congressional reporting fellow for the Texas Tribune. He was also a Washington intern for the Durango Herald. Andrew is a graduate of American University.

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