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All Governments Need a Data-Driven ‘Spock’ on the Bridge, Expert Argues

D.J. Patil, the former data czar appointed by President Barack Obama, referenced Star Trek in making his case for more data scientists in government.

(TNS) — Businesses and cities need "Spock on the bridge" just as much as Captain Kirk did on "Star Trek."

That was the message that was brought to Columbus on Wednesday by D.J. Patil, the mathematician often credited with creating the term "data science" and who was appointed by President Barack Obama as the first U.S. chief data scientist for the U.S. Office of Science and Technology Policy.

Patil was brought to Ohio by the Columbus Collaboratory to discuss big data's future in Ohio. In the roundtable discussion, Patil said that, "in the 'Star Trek' model, Spock is always on the bridge" when a big decision was made. His "Spock" references the presence of pure, unbiased information.

"But how many times were there meetings in the White House and there was no Spock on the bridge?"

He says that has to change.

Patil has become a high-profile name for leading the effort to make the federal government a data-driven enterprise.

But the federal government is not the "beacon" to be followed by others. Instead, the beacon on the local level, in cities like Columbus, is found in collaborations between local government and businesses.

In particular, the Columbus Collaboratory stands as a good example, he said, as it is an effort by seven entities — American Electric Power, Battelle, Cardinal Health, L Brands, Huntington National Bank, Nationwide and OhioHealth — to share research and find ways to be more competitive by improving efficiency, security and customer focus.

"Everyone is racing to some degree to address the 'sexy' problems," Patil said, such as terrorism or weapons of mass destruction.

But when he sent the brightest minds in his field to the Pentagon to find areas in which data science could be applied well, "all the most boring problems were the ones that really needed data solutions. The lesson is, if we can ask what the most boring problems are — that's where we'll get the biggest lift."

Among cities, such "boring problems" can include putting digital sensors on trash cans, something that Columbus City Council President Shannon Hardin saw in operation in Spain. The sensors determine if the cans are full to determine whether trucks need to be sent out to empty them. If not, fuel is saved.

Another boring but serious problem being attacked by a new service called Watchtower that is offered by the Columbus Collaboratory is identifying and managing cybersecurity risks.

"Today, you know if hackers try a password attack, a company's computer system will lock the hackers out after a few tries," said Matt Wald, president and CEO at Columbus Collaboratory.

"But what we're seeing now is hackers are using a common password attack across a large number of users at a company. That's the kind of thing we're trying to detect."

©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.