Skip to content

A Fusion Center Mission: Harnessing the Power of Data and Analytics

Continuing on the theme of sharing analytics activities taking place in the civic sector, this post includes three key ideas that can transfer to any company managing data and analytics in the private sector. This month’s topic focuses on fusion centers which fall under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and can be defined as “state-owned and operated centers that serve as focal points in states and major urban areas for the receipt, analysis, gathering and sharing of threat-related information between State, Local, Tribal and Territorial (SLTT), federal and private sector partners.”

IIA spoke to several leading experts in this space including Juan Colon and John Gillon of SAS and Gretchen Stewart of Intel. The three shared their thoughts in a recent article where they discussed the history and capabilities of fusion centers but also some of the successes and challenges the centers face as they continue to evolve and adapt by supporting new crisis scenarios and incorporating new technologies. Below are three key areas that highlight how fusion centers utilize data and analytics to achieve its missions:

1. Building Trust

One of the key elements that must be in place for fusion centers to succeed and function properly is a sense of trust and collaboration with other agencies and local law enforcement partners. There needs to be trust that the work being done by fusion centers will not interfere and detract from local field efforts or infringe on citizen’s rights, there needs to be trust that the data and information shared will be used effectively, and there needs to be trust that there will be open communication with all parties throughout a project or mission. These are all key components that can translate to any business partner relationship. For instance, if you’re an analytics leader in a hospital system and you’ve developed a new patient monitoring and reporting tool for medical providers to use, there needs to be trust between you and the medical staff that you have developed a tool that will make the current day-to-day work easier, not more difficult. There needs to be trust in the data, so some basic model explainability may be something you need to be prepared to share with your medical staff. There also needs to be trust that the solution will enhance the current protocol and ultimately improve the patient experience because in healthcare, people’s lives are on the line. And communication lines need to be open at all times; there needs to be consistent touchpoints to gather feedback as well as share status updates. By building trust early on with your business partners and having them be part of the solution, you can set yourself up for an easier path to adoption and a deeper understanding of where you may be able to support future needs.

2. Integrating Data

Another important element for highly functioning fusion centers is access to all types of data: data that is timely, data that is structured and unstructured, and data that ranges from text to visual to voice to geo-spatial. And just because different agencies are sharing data and information with fusion centers, it does not mean that the data is actually integrated. Just like with any other organization, there needs to be strong data management protocols in place: data needs to be cleansed and structured, entities need to be agreed upon and properly defined, and data must be secured in accordance with internal compliance and external regulatory guidelines. If we go back to our healthcare example, one challenge some hospitals face is around data management and integration. It’s not unheard of for different departments to have different definitions and codes for seemingly simple data points (e.g., length of stay), making it difficult to get a clean and complete view of a patient’s history just from one hospital stay. There needs to be strong data management measures in place to get the most accurate and timely information possible.

3. Deploying Technology

As the needs of fusion centers and businesses rapidly evolve, new technology solutions will be required to provide better and faster access to data as well as access to tools that will advance and enhance analysis, especially for the growing community of citizen data scientists. However, deploying these technologies can be difficult if the current architecture is fragmented and not built on a sound platform. Now is the time to be evaluating your tech stack and determining how your infrastructure can flex and scale to accommodate new solutions. When considering how your architecture is set up, fusion centers are taking the following approach: “a robust platform isn’t one monolithic system. It could be hybrid – systems in house, bursting and leveraging other data stores from cloud providers, research institutes, and global organizations. The platform’s capacity and capabilities evolve with the mission and requirements.”[1]

While many organizations may be effective managing the hard skills, the data or technology side of operations, there may not be as much attention or focus on the softer skills like building trust with partners. When this part of the process is overlooked and/or the idea of building relationships is undervalued, the other two technical elements that organizations may be really successful at can fall short. IIA’s fusion center article highlights a couple case studies that really bring these three elements to life: building trust, integrating data, and deploying technology.


Lise Massey is the Program Manager for IIA’s Analytics Leadership Consortium (ALC) and has been with IIA for six years. The ALC is a closed network of senior analytics executives from diverse industries who meet to share and discuss best practices, as well as discover and develop analytics innovation, all for the purpose of improving the business impact of analytics at their firms. Prior to IIA, Lise spent over 10 years designing, managing, and leading media analytics programs for a diverse portfolio of clients and has experience in many aspects of program and project management, account management, strategic and tactical planning, business development, and training. Lise is a graduate from the University of Oregon.

You can view more posts by Lise here.

Follow IIA on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook for more updates.