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USDA Becoming More Data-Driven, Customer-Focused Organization

Posted by Ted Kaouk, Chief of Staff, USDA’s Office of the Chief Information Officer in Technology
Aug 02, 2021
United States Cropland Data Layer Map
Map of the United States Cropland Data Layer: the orange areas represent corn, green areas soybeans, red areas cotton and the blue areas rice.

USDA has committed to becoming a facts-based, data-driven, customer-focused organization. One of the Department’s two Agency Priority Goals (APGs) for FY18-19 is to develop the USDA Chief Executive Officer (CXO) Dashboards, which integrate data from systems spanning the agency’s 29 agencies and staff offices, and provide the Department with enhanced capacity to collect accurate, reliable, complete, accessible, and consistent data. With this initiative, USDA will have created the first Cabinet-level suite of comprehensive administrative dashboards for seven administrative functions: human resources, information technology, finance, property, procurement, security, and operations.

In organizations as large as USDA, data often can be trapped in individual systems. This data is incredibly valuable but in that condition, it cannot be leveraged to its fullest extent. Data can be difficult to extract for robust analysis in a timely fashion, leading to decisions that are delayed or that rely upon outdated information. Similarly, many large agencies seek to address problems that require that data from different parts of the organization be analyzed side-by-side. The CXO dashboard project is designed to solve these issues by introducing well-established private sector best practices for data integration, standardization, and visualization to achieve better outcomes at USDA.

The initial project will accomplish three key objectives.

First, it addresses USDA’s vision to become a more data-driven organization by placing key sets of information at the fingertips of leadership. Data visualizations make it possible for individuals to quickly gain understanding of issues in context, to rapidly filter for the information they need within large datasets, and to monitor key metrics consistently. Executives and managers throughout the Department will be better equipped to retain a high-quality workforce, for example, by targeting areas of high risk for attrition that are now made visible through data analytics.

Second, the project is helping USDA become more lean and accountable, by maximizing employee performance and reducing operating costs. The Department is moving away from the manual extraction, copying, and formatting of datasets and to a centralized data repository that will help centralize data flows and reduce extra labor efforts and costs. With a single source of truth for information, USDA will be able to improve the cost-effectiveness of existing resources, such as loans and grants, vehicles, facilities, or investments in information technology.

Third, the CXO dashboards dramatically improve the speed with which key questions can be answered, down from days to hours, minutes, or even seconds. By promoting an interactive data culture, the project will spark USDA employees’ thinking to develop innovative solutions that meet customer needs.

Through better access to timely, accurate information, leaders will be enabled to improve their decisions, program outcomes, and overall management of the Department’s resources.

USDA has been rapidly implementing this project since the beginning of the calendar year, developing dashboards in the areas of information technology, human resources, and finance through 10-week sprints. Corresponding dashboards in the areas of operations, procurement, property, fleet, and security are being developed for initial release to executive leadership by the end of the current fiscal year. During the course of FY19, USDA will refine the dashboards for data quality and usability, expand adoption and usage, and engage with specific programs to utilize the new data infrastructure for specific program metrics and analytics opportunities. Continuously monitoring key performance metrics and utilizing modern analytics capabilities, USDA is seizing this significant opportunity to become more efficient, more responsive to issues and opportunities, and more capable of effectively serving its customers now and in the future.

A person on a keyboard
A person on a keyboard. USDA photo by Lance Cheung.
Category/Topic: Technology

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Shanker Reddy
Nov 02, 2018

Congratulations on the Innovation of the Year award

Nov 02, 2018

This is all great, and extremely needed. However, it may not amount to much as we move forward into the future, if these efforts are not maintained, or adaptive to technology changes and advancement.

Source: USDA employee still using antiquated custom software developed in the early 2000s, software that is key and fundamental to our directives and services we deliver as an agency, software and technology that was developed either in-house, or outsourced, but never adapted to match changes in program needs or similar advancements in related private sectors, maybe maintained for troubleshoot, but not evolved.
Granted, we are seeing and feeling the upswing, and likely resulting learning curve, in the new tech and software that is slated to come online, which has been promised to improve efficiency and service delivery. There's a lot of promise there, hopefully the agency will deliver.

Apr 21, 2020

It is good to see USDA advancing its analytics dashboards for better business decision making. I wonder how this is effecting the people who manually analysed and supplied the data before implementing the dashboard features.