Ram Iyer, Chief Data Officer of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), speaks with Adita Karkera, Chief Data Officer, Government and Public Services at Deloitte in a video interview about the challenges he faces in his day-to-day role, the value of publishing a data strategy, the importance of collaborative and inclusive processes, and the implementation of AI at the FDA.
As the CDO of the agency, Iyer says that a key aspect of his job is to ensure that the people and their skills are leveraged to their full potential. He describes it as an opportunity as much as a challenge and elaborates that the job is about being a catalyst, nurturing growth, offering the right forums, and removing the friction in the system.
Iyer then goes on to speak about the value of publishing a data strategy. He says that it is one of the cases where the process is equally or maybe even more important than the output. He stresses that the strategy has to be collaborative and inclusive of all stakeholders.
The second aspect he mentions, especially in the case of federal agencies, is that the strategy becomes a truly public document that allows testing the implementation against the established “north star.” Iyer recommends that it has to be at a high enough strategic level to be able to adapt to new things and be implementable at the same time.
When asked about exciting projects from the data strategy he mentions creating a set of playbooks and processes supported by strong data foundation and talent to address a variety of public challenges.
Iyer explains that this ensures every problem doesn’t seem like a new problem. It will be faster, cost-efficient, and enable learning from each iterative exercise. He also reveals that his team is launching data analytics as an internal service. It is already being tested for two problems.
Sharing the FDA’s approach to AI, Iyer says that the agency wants to look at AI at multiple levels:
Operations - to learn and test smaller models, and is likely to be more aggressive in the area
Productivity - exploring capabilities from large vendors
Policy - being diligent and working with multiple agencies and private-public partnerships to ensure collective learning
Further, he mentions that the FDA has formed an AI Governance and Guidance board that helps identify the right use cases and implement them. It is driven by the guiding principles - “Faster is not always better,” and “Easier is not always the best.”
On the AI aspect, Iyer adds that the agency has created an AI playbook and framework in collaboration with universities and continues to expand it. Sharing a key lesson learned from his time at the FDA, he says that the lack of good talent in government organizations is a myth.
CDO Magazine appreciates Ram Iyer for sharing his insights and data success stories with our global community.