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FCW : April 30, 2015
April 30, 2015 FCW.COM 21 what would be new datasets that could help us predict the future of the economy in near-real time.” The Fed is in the early stages of deciding what kinds of data could support a more up-to-date look at the economy. To put the Fed’s needs in context, it is a policymaking organization, not an operational or trans- actional operation, and it doesn’t need the volumes or velocity of data that Google, Amazon or a stock exchange might require. But the Fed does have “highly complex data needs that span structured, unstructured and semi- structured” data, Casey said. “Just having lots more data isn’t neces- sarily helpful.” She is evaluating sources of high-frequency data, which could speed up publication and reduce the need for revisions of economic measurements, and more granu- lar and geographically targeted data, which could help policymak- ers focus on how the economy is performing in particular cities and regions. But managing that data poses some challenges. Many sources of e-commerce-gen- erated data have only been around for a decade or so, which makes historical com- parisons problematic. In addition, there is a selection bias in terms of who is using online products and services. And from a data steward- ship standpoint, there’s no guaran- tee that data collected today will be maintained in that format five years — or even five quarters — in the future. To meet those challenges, the Office of the Chief Data Officer has introduced new management roles, including a dedicated team of data governance analysts and data architects. “We’re taking a holistic, enter- prise view of how we do the work we do,” Casey said. “But particu- larly as we deal with some of these newer datasets, we can’t just throw them into production. We have to figure out how we manage these, what sorts of stewardship would be needed for newly emerging datasets. We’re not sure because some of these data products are so very new, and they’re not that stable yet.” There are also technical and infra- structure obstacles to managing new data inventories. “What is big data today will be small data in five years,” she said. “This is as small as the data will ever be again, so we have to start adjusting now.” — Adam Mazmanian human can understand and to visualize that data so they can make a decision.” Along those lines, Definitive Logic works with clients to overhaul and connect disparate databases and create dashboards to tease insights out of the information. A wide array of other contractors — ranging from longtime players such as Unisys to relative upstarts such as Splunk — are engaged in similar projects across government. And another firm in Silicon Valley is emerging to help companies deal with big-data problems. But instead of con- sulting on individual projects, venture capital-backed Ala- tion offers its product in the form of software as a service. Alation enables companies to centralize their datasets so that they can engage in collaborative analytics projects more efficiently, optimize their data warehouse and better manage their data governance processes. Its clients include eBay, Square and MarketShare, a company that provides marketers with predictive analytics services to help them decide where to most effectively allocate their marketing budgets. DeRosa wasn’t familiar with Alation, but concurred with its basic premise. And he suggested that the new cadres of chief data officers — in addition to creating formal data management guidelines for their agencies and establishing return-on-investment calculations for big-data projects to demonstrate their value — could start with the basics. For many government workers, simply knowing where to look for relevant datasets is a complex and torturous process, and chief data officers should help their agencies simplify that process. “They could focus on...reducing the complexity of get- ting and using data,” he said. “This is a big challenge: being able to simplify the retrieval of the data that you need.” n Sarah Lai Stirland is a technology reporter based in Los Gatos, Calif. Micheline Casey, Federal Reserve Board 0430fcw_016-021.indd 21 4/8/15 2:35 PM
April 15, 2015
May 15, 2015