Dark Data in Government: Sounds Sinister
Anytime I read about something characterized as “dark”, my mind immediately jumps to a vision of something sneaky or sinister, something better left unsaid or undiscovered. Maybe I watched too many Alfred Hitchcock movies in my youth, who knows. However, when coupled with the word “data”, “dark” is anything BUT sinister. Sure, as you might agree, the word “undiscovered” may still apply, but, only with a more positive connotation.
To level set, let’s make sure you understand my definition of dark data. I prefer using visualizations when I can so, picture this: the end of the first Indiana Jones movie, Raiders of the Lost Ark. In this scene, we see the Ark of the Covenant, stored in a generic container, being moved down the aisle in a massive warehouse full of other generic containers. What’s in all those containers? It’s pretty much anyone’s guess. There may be a record somewhere, but, for all intents and purposes, the materials stored in those boxes are useless.
Applying this to data, once a piece of data gets shoved into some generic container and is stored away, just like the Arc, the data becomes essentially worthless. This is dark data.
Opening up a government agency to all its dark data can have significant impacts, both positive and negative. Here are couple initial tips to get you thinking in the right direction:
- Begin with the end in mind – identify quantitative business benefits of exposing certain dark data.
- Determine what’s truly available – perform a discovery project – seek out data hidden in the corners of your agency – databases, documents, operational systems, live streams, logs, etc.
- Create an extraction plan – determine how you will get access to the data, how often does the data update, how will handle varied formats?
- Ingest the data – transform the data if needed, integrate if needed, capture as much metadata as possible (never assume you won’t need a metadata field, that’s just about the time you will be proven wrong).
- Govern the data – establish standards for quality, access controls, security protections, semantic consistency, etc. – don’t skimp here, the impact of bad data can never really be quantified.
- Store it – it’s interesting how often agencies think this is the first step
- Get the data ready to be useful to people, tools and applications – think about how to minimalize the need for users to manipulate data – reformatting, parsing, filtering, etc. – to better enable self-service.
- Make it available – at this point, the data should be easily accessible, easily discoverable, easily used by people, tools and applications.
Clearly, there’s more to shining the light on dark data than I can offer in this post. If you’d like to take the next step to learning what is possible, I suggest you download the eBook, The Dark Data Imperative.