Dennis D. McDonald ( consults from Alexandria Virginia. His services include writing & research, proposal development, and project management.

Data Program Governance and the Success of Shared Digital Services

Data Program Governance and the Success of Shared Digital Services

The recent Booz Allen Hamilton report Mobilizing for Shared Services and Digital Strategies: Insights from the 2015 Federal Leadership summit at first doesn’t seem to be anything new. After all, who can argue with standardizing on “best practices” across organizations to reduce duplication and improve quality?

Looking closer, though, you see the implications of the “… and digital strategies” portion of the report’s title. There’s a heavy emphasis here on improved data management as the key element in improving government operations and services.

One very practical use of a report like this is that it can help the program planner define the scope of a process improvement project where a key component is standardizing how data assets are managed and used in support of the organization’s goals and objectives. Given how intertwined different systems and business processes are in a typical organization it’s not unusual to need help in defining not only where to start and but also in how to prioritize, given that an organization’s data touches on so many different areas.

The appendix of this report provide a useful list of practice based initiatives under headings like, “Focusing Mission,” “Implementation,” and “Data Strategies.” If you’ve ever helped an organization to design and implement an open data program, for example, you’ll see the value of putting structure based on practical experience into your plan. The “shared services” model discussed here is a good starting place, especially since it doesn’t just focus on the analytical side of data programs.

I do have one misgiving about the report. I’ve noticed that it’s common, whether we’re talking about open data, data analytics, big data, visualization, or standardization, that there is relatively little published on the “nuts and bolts” of how to plan and manage data programs so that all the parts work together. I call this “data program management.”

Leadership and governance are key. If the tip of the data management “spear” is analyzing data in new and interesting ways to help solve important problems, someone still has to manufacture the spear, carry it, and train throwers to hit the target. Managing and governing the logistics involved in getting that spear to the battlefield may not be as much fun as hacking away at the data but it sure is important!

As a former number cruncher I appreciate the satisfaction one derives from gathering, organizing, presenting, and interpreting data in clever and meaningful ways. But it also requires a lot of work to get to that point especially when the data come from multiple sources, siloed organizations, and legacy systems. This is especially true when an attempt is being made — as with “open data” programs — to bring new users, intermediaries, and innovative uses into the picture.

The Booz Allen Hamilton report, while it doesn’t going into any real detail about program governance, does emphasize the importance of organization such as OMB in promoting cross-organizational guidance and leadership in implementing programs such as the DATA Act. That’s a good thing, as the recent DATA Act Summit emphasized.

Still, in the future I’d like to see more attention paid to the management of open data, big data, and data analytics. People are realizing that data are the lifeblood of the services provided by government. How data are managed can make or break the success of such organizations and programs.

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Copyright © 2015 by Dennis D. McDonald, Ph.D. Dennis is an independent management consultant based in Alexandria, Virginia. His experience includes consulting company ownership and management, database publishing and data transformation projects, managing the consolidation of large systems, open data, statistical research, corporate IT strategy, and IT cost analysis. Clients have included the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Academy of Engineering, the World Bank, and the National Library of Medicine. He has worked as a project manager, analyst, and researcher in the U.S. and in Europe, Egypt, and China. His web site is located at and his email address is On Twitter he is @ddmcd.

Progress Implementing the DATA Act (draft)

Who Gets Credit for Open Data?

Who Gets Credit for Open Data?