We recently spoke with Darryn Graham, Chief Architect at Software AG Government Solutions, about situational awareness. Graham helps shape IT architecture for government agencies to achieve mission success, and describes situational awareness as the insights gained from fusing and analyzing data. He finds situational awareness fascinating because it is something anyone can relate to on a daily basis. “For example, when you leave your house in the morning, you are combining data from the weather, traffic, which day it is, and what time it is. These real-time data feeds all play a role in your decisions about what to wear, how to get to work, what time you should leave for work, etc. These decisions will ultimately determine if you will make it to the office in time for that meeting.”
Here’s what Graham had to say about situational awareness and government agencies:
ModernGov: Tell us what situational awareness is and why it is important.
Darryn Graham: Situational awareness is the knowledge and understanding of environmental elements and events critical to decision-makers in complex, dynamic areas. Often, to get to the insights gained from situational awareness, typically one is combining data, tools, and techniques along with a strong dose of creativity. One could even argue that it is equal parts art and science. The reason this is important is that getting to the insights helps with understanding, which is one of the fundamental requirements of informed decision-making. If the answer to a question is “it depends,” then it is likely that a good, solid answer could be reached far better or faster with enhanced situational awareness.
MG: Do most government agencies have a handle on situational awareness?
Graham: While not all government agencies are tasked with the type of decision-making where situational awareness can make a significant impact, in my experience those that are have done a really good job. Some agencies are using situational awareness in some very compelling ways. This is especially the case in the Department of Defense (DoD) in the area of national security. Agencies are often dealing with crises accompanied by a variety of very complex and frequently changing data. The added pressure of protecting Americans pushes the need for heightened awareness and an increased importance on decision-making. In these agencies, a “good answer” sometimes isn’t good enough: they need “the best” answer.
MG: For agencies handling situational awareness effectively, what are they doing right and what is typically their biggest challenge?
Graham: The biggest struggle I have seen most agencies face is simply getting access to the appropriate data in real-time. To overcome this struggle, agencies that are doing it right are doing things like leveraging visualization technologies and performing real-time data analysis on streams of in-flight data. They also are using creative ways to combine and intermingle disparate data sources. All of this provides insights to make better decisions faster.
MG: What kinds of outcomes can an agency create/discover by using situational awareness effectively?
Graham: This is going to vary greatly depending on the details of the situation, the agency, and the data. However, in general, agencies can expect to be better informed, which helps decision-making. Further, agencies that are able to integrate real-time data feeds can expect to make these decisions faster. In so many situations, data and related insights can be “perishable” leading to data spoilage where their significance, weight, and/or value decreases over time. In my experience, organizations that make effective use of situational awareness are blending real-time data.
In our next post, Graham will share three tips for government agencies choosing a situational awareness vendor.