Email this Article Email   

CHIPS Articles: Department of the Navy Chief Data Officer Top Priorities

Department of the Navy Chief Data Officer Top Priorities
By Thomas Sasala, DON CDO - January-March 2020

Over the last few years, the importance of fully exploiting organizational data for data-driven decisions has grown significantly across the public and private sector. Inventorying, organizing, and making data accessible is paramount for making timely and accurate decisions at the speed of the mission. Acknowledging the importance of data and making data-driven decisions across the Department of the Navy (DON), the Under Secretary of the Navy (UNSECNAV) created the Department’s first Chief Data Officer (CDO), who is responsible for establishing a DON-wide (including the U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps) data program and implementing effective data management processes across all echelons.

In late fall 2019, UNSECNAV designated1 me as the DON CDO and stated clear authorities and responsibilities which were drawn from the Open Government Data Act (P.L. 115-435, Title II) as well as initiatives enumerated in the DON Business Operation Plan (BOP).

Currently it is estimated that “data scientists spend around 80% of their time on preparing and managing data for analysis”2, this leaves only 20% of their time to actually perform analysis that will benefit the DON.
Focus of Action

The DON faces the enormous challenge of effectively gathering, prioritizing, and employing our vast amount of data to provide the most benefit to the warfighter. In order to meet this challenge, the DON will concentrate its efforts on improving four essential data capabilities: (1) governance, (2) talent and culture, (3) architecture, and (4) investments.

Starting with Governance

Establishing effective data management across the DON is complex and requires focused energy and unity of effort. The Concept of Operations for Naval Data Management establishes our management framework and defines four essential capabilities listed above. We started with governance as a mechanism to formalize decisions around data policies, stewardship, and management. Governance in this context is not the creation of complicated processes or unnecessary bureaucracy. Instead, our data governance will positively impact the accessibility, timeliness, quality, and protection of Naval data assets through pragmatic implementation of a DON-wide data architecture and DoD-wide data standards.

Simply put, we will strive to provide data to consumers in a timely manner with a level of assuredness that the data is relevant, complete and accurate for their mission. Through the use of mission threads and context specific use cases, we are assessing systems for data utility and will use the results of the assessment to guide investments in more effective data management.

Holistic Approach

Our data management activities do not end with establishing data governance across the DON. In fact, we organized around five lines of effort to affect broad change. Those lines of effort are:

  1. Set the Foundation
  2. Evolve the Workforce
  3. Position and Protect the Data
  4. Build, Optimize, and Operationalize the Environment
  5. Manage and Govern

Each line of effort has a designated DON lead who is responsible for implementing specific initiatives across the Naval data fabric, as documented in the DON Implementation Plan of the DoD Data Strategy, which will be published in early spring 2020.

Start with the End in Mind

Data management is a never-ending process and our vision is straightforward.

Transform the DON to a data-aware organization that can exploit data for decision-making purposes at the speed of mission.

Supporting the vision requires both near-term and long-term actions. As discussed already, immediate near-term actions revolve around governance and the establishment of data stewardship. Our early focus will be on mission threads to drive transparency and accountability for data access, quality, use, and protection.

Longer-term, building data literacy and establishing a highly skilled data savvy workforce is a top priority, which will take time and resources. Leaning into the longer-term efforts, we are defining data roles, assigning skill requirements to the roles, and ultimately developing position descriptions. These key activities will lead to a cohesive education program that results in a skilled workforce who values data, understands the power of data, and can exploit data for decision making purposes.

Creating Unity of Effort

I am personally excited about the opportunities ahead of us and I encourage each of you to provide your thoughts, suggestions, and know how to help us fulfill our Naval data management vision of exploiting data for decision-making purposes at the speed of mission.

Future articles will provide additional details on our efforts and progress, along with success stories from the field. Please support this critical effort by sending your ideas and successes to us at

1UNSECNAV Memorandum, “Designation of the Department of the Navy Chief Data Officer” signed October 2, 2019.
2Press, Gill (2016). Retrieved from Cleaning Big Data: Most Time-Consuming, Least Enjoyable Data Science Task, Survey Says.

DON Chief Data Officer Thomas Sasala
Related CHIPS Articles
Related DON CIO News
Related DON CIO Policy

CHIPS is an official U.S. Navy website sponsored by the Department of the Navy (DON) Chief Information Officer, the Department of Defense Enterprise Software Initiative (ESI) and the DON's ESI Software Product Manager Team at Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific.

Online ISSN 2154-1779; Print ISSN 1047-9988
Hyperlink Disclaimer