Michael Conlin, the Department of Defense’s Chief Data Officer (CDO), wants to steer the department towards evidence-based decision making but he recognizes that weaning people away from making decisions via gut feel will have to rely on winning small victories day after day.

Conlin believes that any discrete improvement in data management, however small, is just the prescription for the heavily-siloed organization. “Industry is where the art of the possible is created every single day with data science,” Conlin said. “That means we need to place our people with industry to get that practical experience with the art of the possible and bring them back in.”

Conor Collins tells us more about Conlin’s plans for the DoD in this report from Government CIO:

Conlin outlined two important challenges facing DOD’s data efforts moving into the future: culture and talent. “We have a culture of experience-centric decision-making. Some people like to call it instinct-centric decision-making. People like to talk about gut feel. In the commercial sector, we learned that gut is a really great way to go broke,” Conlin said at the summit.

Data fratricide, or different people and units bringing their own data into decision-making processes and trying to one-up their respective data, presents another culture problem that a common enterprise data repository helps alleviate. “Nobody gets to bring their own data to the fight anymore,” Conlin said.

Planning at the macro level and prioritizing the near term over the medium and long terms round out the list of cultural challenges that need to be addressed moving forward. In addition to the cultural challenges of adapting DOD to 21st century technologies and processes, talent is crucial.

Conlin explained the unique combination of skills and experience that comprise an ideal data scientist, including computer science — specifically Python or R, math and statistics and domain subject matter expertise — is the “scarcest talent on the planet,” Conlin explained.