Agencies turn to data warehousing

Feds tap stores of data to maintain a competitive edge, analyze information and plan projects

One agency used it to avoid being shut down about 10 years ago. Another department is using it to help answer questions about demographic information, and still another is putting it to work on a project to help Americans living in rural areas.

"It" is data warehousing, and these were among the projects presented Wednesday at the Data Warehousing Institute's spring conference in Washington, D.C. A data warehouse is a repository fed from multiple sources that is structured for querying and reporting information ranging from financial reports to personal data.

Avoiding Shutdown The Naval Surface Warfare Center was in danger of being shut down in the early 1990s, but a data-warehousing project launched in 1992 helped keep it in business, said Carol Burleson, corporate staff member at the NSWC's Dahlgren Division.

She explained that the project was launched for a competitive advantage. "We are an R&D lab and are more like the private sector than most public-sector organizations because we need to solicit money," Burleson said, "and [many] of the bases closing were labs like us."

The current evolution of the project is an enterprise portal that is used by more than 700 personnel in Dahlgren, Va., and Panama City, Fla., to research topics that include sponsors, transactions and technical capabilities.

The project is funded at about $1.2 million per year and has proven to be so useful that a third site in Virginia Beach, Va., will begin tapping into the system Oct. 1, Burleson said.

GSA's Analysis The General Services Administration, Census Bureau and Agriculture Department also sing the praises of data warehousing.

In GSA's project, more than 100 users tap into a warehouse that holds data from six internal sources, including information on real estate, supplies and information technology solutions, said John Landers, project executive in GSA's office of the chief information officer. It also contains information from external sources, including Defense Department and federal procurement databases.

Users can perform simple or advanced queries on the system to analyze the business data the agency collects. Such queries include:

The total number of purchases an agency made through GSA. A breakdown of how much an agency purchased through GSA's services. How many employees an agency has during each fiscal quarter. "Not everyone at GSA thinks this is money well spent because it is not a culture of analysis" but a cyclical culture that's mostly made up of buying and selling, Landers said. Still, there are plans to train additional users, add more subject areas and eventually expand access to senior-level management at different agencies, he said.

Census, USDA Count on It The Census Bureau is using data warehousing to streamline the querying of data collected in 2000, even though it had to overcome several obstacles along the way, including disclosure concerns, security issues and the messy integration of various sources of statistical information.

Agriculture is using the technology to help the agency meet its mission in rural areas of finding affordable housing, developing affordable water and waste services, and installing electricity and telecommunications services. Data warehousing is helping the agency achieve those goals by making strategic information available quickly for predicting when and where problems might occur and for planning preventive measures.

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