Open Data

Sharing goes hand-in-hand with safeguarding

open eye and data

The recent priorities outlined by the Obama administration through the Open Data Policy underscore the government’s strong impetus to capitalize on public/private partnerships to enable open and innovative governing. The Open Data Policy, if adopted strategically and managed efficiently, has the potential to dramatically improve the way agencies interact with one another, the private sector and the American public.

At its core, open data is about sharing information both inside and outside government. Not only does sharing information create a culture of open dialogue and interoperable standards, but it also serves as a force multiplier for agencies to achieve economies of scale by sharing key insights and best practices.

For example, prior to the Open Data Policy, the Federal Emergency Management Agency had to jump through hoops to access detailed socioeconomic housing data critical in identifying high-risk areas for disaster planning. That type of data can significantly improve the agency’s planning for individuals who might need assistance during an emergency evacuation or require medical services.

With the Open Data Policy in place, FEMA is able to more easily gain access to information collected by the Census Bureau’s application programming interface and develop richer, more detailed disaster plans.

CIOs face many new imperatives to drive the meaningful convergence of cloud, mobile, analytical and social technologies. In that context, open data should be approached with a strategic vision underpinned by robust security controls. In the complex and multilayered government environment, security controls are only as good as IT managers’ knowledge of and visibility into important assets regardless of their location or origin.

Therefore, a successful open-data strategy starts with identifying what information currently resides within agency datasets. However, in many cases, the sheer size and amount of data that resides within government systems can make day-to-day data classification and governance a serious challenge. Bringing open data to life requires applying strong classification modules and analytics to better understand the value of the datasets.

Once the security levels of the information are properly identified, it is critical to implement rigorous identity and access management best practices. Advanced IAM tools and governance models will ensure that sensitive personal information and national security data remain protected from internal data leakages and violations.

The two-step process of identifying and classifying sensitive data and applying strong IAM and data governance tools is on display at the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS has adopted a series of policies for handling and safeguarding information, one of which involves the classification and declassification of data. As a result, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, a subsidiary of HHS, for the first time released county-level data on Medicare spending and utilization. The data empowers researchers and entrepreneurs to develop innovative tools that provide greater access to health care.

Admittedly, the Open Data Policy is not a panacea that will solve all public/private collaboration challenges and roadblocks. However, it presents a meaningful opportunity for agency executives to articulate a strategy that spurs progress toward making information resources more freely available.

The federal government is tasked with safeguarding Americans’ freedoms, safety and privacy. In today’s modern, digital world where cyberattacks have become the new normal, understanding how to share information securely is critical to propelling the nation forward economically, culturally and socially.

About the Authors

Paul Christman is vice president of the public sector at Dell Software.

Jamie Manuel is product marketing manager at Dell Software.

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