Where Are All the State Chief Data Officers?

Columbus, Ohio

Columbus, Ohio

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Ohio is getting by without one, for now.

State governments often wait for others to see success with a strategy or program before following suit, which might explain the dearth of chief data officers in state capitals.

A 2016 survey from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers found that 58 percent considered data governance and management a high priority or essential in their agendas—as reflected in the organization’s 2017 priorities list.

But that same study revealed only one-third of states have a CDO, with another 20 percent considering creating the position.

“They have extremely high turnover rates,” Sean Brown, Cloudera state, local and education director, told Route Fifty by phone. “They really don’t have a tone or authority or budget, and the departments across the state still maintain ownership of their data. Many of them get frustrated and disenchanted.”

CDOs are twice as likely to report to CIOs as another state government official, according to NASCIO’s survey, and while some generate high-level data governance policy, few have an impact getting meaningful value out of state data.

More “shining examples” of CDOs are needed, Brown said, and for that there must be state legislation or gubernatorial mandates driving adoption of the position.

Ohio lacks a chief data officer, but Gov. John Kasich is spearheading a statewide, centralized data repository, where all government agencies can elect to share their data.

A CDO with proper resources, influence and control could implement a strategy to transform how government works coupling advanced data analytics with that warehouse.

In any state, agency data needs are wide-ranging, with the types and business cases for the department of health differing from those for, say, the department of corrections.

Cloudera, a Palo Alto, California-based machine learning and analytics software company, is working with Ohio’s original business intelligence vendor to build out the state’s repository.

“They really want to start breaking down these data silos that have kind of evolved over the years,” Brown said.

Cloudera’s platform covers data retention and security, and they’ve advised the state to start small: migrating data analytics within the current environment.

Value can be delivered on small projects with the information available, such as saving costs by optimizing a department of transportation’s vehicle road-clearing routes. That innovation can then be repeated elsewhere or have additional datasets fed in.

Until a CDO office is created, traditional IT lines of business must be utilized, Brown said.

“This is really an exciting time. The state and local market is always slow to adopt new technology,” he said. “In the last few months we’ve been seeing an increasingly healthy dialogue about how we help state government transform operations, whether or not they have CDOs  come on board. Within pockets of these organizations, people are still thinking about these problems.”

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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