Experts say data management is crucial

“If you don’t get the data right, nothing else is going to go right,” Bob Dein, a senior consulting specialist for the Ohio-based consulting company Haverstick, said yesterday.

At a roundtable hosted by Firstlogic in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, experts discussed how the management and quality of data can be an asset to agencies. They said standardization and compliance mandates would improve data sharing and generate savings through new efficiencies.

Dein, who was one of the panelists, has worked in data management since the 1980s. His work started when he helped a public school district fix its deficient methods for keeping student records. For example, the district failed to update its records when students transferred to schools outside the district.

Once the problem was corrected, school enrollment dropped by 3,000 students, Dein said. The district was able to lower costs because it could cater to its actual needs based on sound data.

Panelist Amy Fester, an enterprise architect at Optimal Solutions and Technologies, has been working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on its data management struggles since Hurricane Katrina hit.

“People actually scam FEMA. Big surprise,” Fester said. But quality data could thwart some of those scams. She said that as she dug into the agency’s data, she found a mainframe data storage system that is more than 20 years old. Moreover, the ways in which the agency’s data is gathered are at least as old; no one knows where or when they actually began, she said.

As FEMA wrestles with its erroneous data, insurance companies lay claim to their own information, “holding the data hostage,” Fester said. That hinders how well FEMA can help people caught in a disaster.

Change management today is as important as the technology translating the data, said Doug Jones, a panelist and Firstlogic’s director of sales. “The agencies are getting it. The drumbeat is getting louder,” he said.

Dein said the agencies’ executives must believe in the need for good data. “The higher up you go, the more ignorant they are,” he said.

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