Cindy Walker serves as VP of Salient Federal’s Data Analytics Center of Excellence and oversees the development and implementation of Salient’s data analytics strategy as well as predictive analytics, agile business intelligence and big data offerings.
The more than 25 year industry veteran is the author of numerous articles and white papers on enterprise data management topics.
She caught up with ExecutiveBiz to discuss her previous work in federal IT transformations and data, her new role at Salient and her work in business intelligence.
ExecutiveBiz: Introduce our audience to your roles and responsibilities at Salient Federal.
Cindy Walker: I am the Vice President of our Data Analytics Center of Excellence, a new center that we launched when I joined in March of this year. I’m proud and honored to be the first director to serve in this role.
My responsibilities are to focus on our current clients and bring market distinctions and innovations to help them leverage their data assets to a greater advantage for mission impact. I am also responsible for enabling agile business intelligence, predictive analytics, and big data solutions for those clients.
ExecutiveBiz: What have been some of the main items on your agenda within the past year?
Cindy Walker: The focus on our first year will be on engaging with our current clients right where they are. We want to be able to help them start to have valuable, mission impactful insights right away, to leverage their current data assets, and without requiring them to make major technology investments or have a slow start‑up. Our focus is really on speed to insight as a part of our value proposition.
ExecutiveBiz: How will the center and the company work with agencies to manage their data and technology setup?
Cindy Walker: We’ll work with them across the primary focus areas of agile business intelligence, which is leveraging their current assets. In many cases with our clients, we are already supporting many of their legacy information systems and applications. So we, along with them, have a really good domain‑specific understanding of how they’re using the data to run their day‑to‑day operations.
Initially we’ll help them mature their business intelligence capabilities to be able to do what we call diagnostic analysis of their mission performance. We look at how and why they’ve performed. If those results haven’t been what they wanted, we look into what has caused certain performance results. We call that diagnostic.
We are helping them move in the business intelligence area from diagnostic‑only analytics to much more forward‑looking and predictive analytics. Through this they can use the data they already have, go back to those data sets and begin to look forward. Based upon our knowledge of services they provide to citizens and the data they collect about these services, we can help them make future projections. Based upon models we will help them build, they can use the information to manage their strategic direction. This is what we call prescriptive. Furthermore, the analytics can guide them in their future decisions so they can positively influence and achieve their missions.
That’s one way in the business intelligence arena. Another way is in the big data analytics arena, where many of our customers are poised to look at technological innovations and tools they need to bring into their environment. These will help them to bring external data sets or large, unstructured data sets, to share data with other agencies, to add to their in-house data sets and to provide better understanding and insights.
We help them evaluate the prototype tools they need and more importantly, with culture change in the governance process. We help our customers understand how to embrace the insights gained with these analytics and integrate those into their decision process in a way that they haven’t done in the past.
ExecutiveBiz: In which technology‑related areas and data can government and business work closer together?
Cindy Walker: There are so many ways. In my 30 years in the business of supporting federal IT transformations and data, there has never been a more exciting time to be involved in a partnership between industry and government.
The industry can partner with government to help them advance standards and rapidly share data from agencies to agencies and with the private sector, which helps them do their job better. By helping them collaborate and share the lessons they learned, they can quickly advance the technology solutions and the process reengineering needed to address their mission challenges.
There are two key areas at the center of my role in leading Salient to provide for our customers – data analytics and big data management. Right now there’s a tremendous amount of partnership between industry and government to really advance mission performance and improve service consistency in these two areas.
ExecutiveBiz: Is there anything that you’d like to go more in‑depth on or any other final thoughts that you’d like to offer?
Cindy Walker: I would like to leave you with this thought: there is a lot of energy around the technical aspects of data analytics and big data management. Experience has taught me that to be truly successful, our responsibility is to help the agencies deal with two main aspects that are not related to the technology.
First is data governance. Governance is very important to help them establish strong processes. This determines who is accountable and responsible for making decisions and answering questions in relation to the analytics initiatives taken.
It is equally important to embrace a priority setting around making sure that they are spending money and making investments in a smart way so that they can really achieve efficiencies.
There’s tremendous cost savings potential here and analytics investments can have great impact on improvements in service to the citizens. The culture change that effective governance facilitates is more important than the technology part, especially concerning the “people” side of analytics. I’d just leave you with that as a final thought.