From Innovation to Implementation – supporting the Department of Defense Data Strategy

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By Randy Soper, Lead Data Strategist

On June 15 GovConWire hosted the virtual Data Innovation Forum event.  Illuminate was proud to be a platinum sponsor. It included full representation of the Department of Defense (DOD) data strategy/governance leadership. The DOD Chief Data Officer, David Spirk, was the keynote speaker.  An expert panel included comprehensive representation from the Service Chief Data Officers: Thomas Sasala of the U.S. Navy, Eileen Vidrine of the U.S. Air Force and Dr. David Markowitz of the U.S. Army. The main theme and discussions at the event centered on movement of efforts from the 2020 DOD Data Strategy to Department and Service implementation activities. If you didn’t get a chance to attend, you can still catch a replay of the event

Highlighted among DOD data strategy implementation activities were the Department’s Data Decrees spelled out in the May 2021 memo “Creating Data Advantage” from Deputy Secretary of Defense,  Dr. Kathleen Hicks. The Department’s actions to achieve the five Data Decrees will support the transition and foundation of the Department’s strategic data goals:  make data Visible, Accessible, Understandable, Linked, Trustworthy, Interoperable, and Secure (VAULTIS). Decrees like establishing a federated data catalog with common interface specifications will help to support multiple VAULTIS goals, including enhanced foundations for data visibility, understandability, and interoperability. Others, like moving to data stores that are free from hardware and software dependencies will help move away from poor practices of the past that created vendor lock-in and made achieving the VAULTIS goals more challenging with legacy systems.  

The discussion by the DOD data leaders was thoughtful and provided many insights into current implementation activities and directions. Universally, the leadership sees cultural challenges as more significant than technological ones for the Department. In both the DOD strategy and the implementation activities, developing talent and workforce data literacy are key areas of emphasis.

Industry can help to make the Department’s objectives a reality. Not only should data platforms and analytic capabilities conform to Data Decree requirements, especially in terms of API design, open data storage, and best data security practices, but Industry should anticipate the DOD’s VAULTIS end-state and data-oriented workforce and weapons platforms. Trust and responsible use of data and analytics requires thoughtful performance design, documentation, assurance, and user interfaces built into the data environment and analytics environments from the start, not as an afterthought.  

At Illuminate, we have found that data capability design for the new DOD strategy has not required a pivot. The DOD’s VAULTIS goals and Data Decrees are lofty because of the Department’s size and complexity and because they are comprehensive. But the Department’s objectives and foundational approaches are not new to the best practices of modern data engineering and data environment design. Illuminate has a principled commitment to open architectures, cloud native design, cloud agnostic approaches, and extensive use of Free and Open-Source Software (FOSS) tools. These practices are part of our DNA. They grew out of both our Southern California Illuminate Lab’s approach to data engineering in collaboration with Fortune 500 partners and the needs of our Illuminate Technologies edge-network big data processing capability for managing massive speed and scale. As a solutions company, Illuminate has developed its Vigilance™ framework of capabilities to be able to rapidly assemble implementation architectures to solve our customer’s data curation, discovery, analysis, and visualization needs. The Vigilance framework includes a focus on metadata, not only to enable mission-focused data models, but also to reflect the business-of-mission controls and assurance environment. As required in the Decrees, Vigilance supports Attribute-Based Access Controls (ABAC) for a highly granular data security environment. Further, as assurances for responsible Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics are now mandated for the Department, Illuminate will leverage Vigilance’s tagging capability to identify data provenance, Machine Learning (ML) design criteria and training performance, and to differentiate between machine and analyst processed content, for example, as means to provide downstream human and machine transparency for appropriate and effective use.  

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About Illuminate

At the forefront of technology – we deliver strategic insight and performance with products, services, and talent that evolve at the speed of data. Currently supporting clients in defense, intelligence, and telecommunications.

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