As the U.S. Air Force (USAF) continues along its data management journey, Chief Data Officer Eileen Vidrine said that the agency has implemented new tactics – such as datathons and academic efforts – to empower all service personnel to embrace data science.

“Our whole goal is really to make our data actionable as quickly as possible to drive insights,” Vidrine said of the agency’s data efforts at the August 19 MIT CDO and Information Quality Symposium. USAF has already launched efforts like the VAULT data platform to provide data tools and analytics to personnel across the service. Having seen success in that area, the Air Force is launching new enterprise-wide data initiatives.

According to Vidrine, USAF just recently wrapped up its first series of datathons. Structured like a hackathon, the datathon tasked over 100 members of USAF to solve problem sets from the community using the data made available by the agency. The most recent iteration tasked participants with finding a more efficient way to update the USAF scheduling system.

“The winning datathon group was a team that met at the datathon, they worked remotely, and they came up with a 92 percent scheduling solution that can be automated,” Vidrine said.

Events like that datathon, Vidrine continued, highlight the data capabilities already within the agency. “Datathons are some of the first steps to help us highlight some of the needs and capabilities our airmen have. We just need to leverage it as a part of our solution moving forward,” she said. As a part of this effort, USAF is also investing in data science education.

For example, Vidrine’s office partnered with the Air Force Institute of Technology to develop the first online graduate certificate program in data science to upskill data science skills across the department. The program that Vidrine said she was most excited about, however, is a new data science degree program within USAF.

“The United States Air Force Academy this month is launching their first data science undergraduate degree program,” she said. “Graduates from that degree program will come on to active duty in all career sets. It’s not just about building capability for our office, it’s about building it for the department.”

Vidrine explained that the agency’s heavy focus on data science throughout the department is because personnel coming into the force have grown up as digital natives. The new recruits now demand access to data for informed decision making, she said, so the department is implementing programs to make that possible.

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Katie Malone
Katie Malone
Katie Malone is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.