Ohio CIO: Data Analytics ‘The Most Disruptive Thing That We Have Going On’


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IoT, autonomous vehicles, or analytics—CIO Stu Davis is thinking about how to handle a future awash in data.

The state of Ohio has embarked on a number of innovative technology experiments over the past few years—but when it comes to what is going to disrupt government, it’s data analytics according to its chief information officer, Stu Davis.

In an interview with Route Fifty earlier this month, Davis described how the state had supported a number of unique and exciting projects lately, including connecting internet-enabled infrastructure along major highways in the state, paving the way for connected and autonomous vehicles. For Davis, though, all this innovation leads back to the questions around the data, and ultimately if and how the state utilizes data to better the lives of residents and improve the functioning of government.

“To me, it goes back to the data analytics, which is, to me, the most disruptive thing that we have going on,” Davis said during our interview. “If we do it right it will change our programs, it will change state government, it will change how we interact with local government, it will change how we do things and how we think about things in the future.”

Davis explained that the power to fuse multiple data sets will allow governments to “identify critical factors and considerations that we have never thought about” based on “taking data from multiple sources as opposed to our particular data set that we might have in our agency, or our department, or our division.”

The steps between where government is today and where it wants to be through data analytics is complex, but Davis and the state have been taking steps to set up agencies to succeed on that front.

Davis and his partners in procurement started by trying to cast a wide net for potential companies that may be able to support different analytics approaches.

“We found 100-some data analytics companies in Ohio we didn’t even know about,” by changing the typical language used by the state in contracting, Davis said. With the new terms and conditions, Ohio “could engage with these new companies who might have a better mousetrap … as opposed to the usual suspects that would always come in.”

The state prequalified 50 companies to do data analytics for the state across 14 different “disciplines,” like transportation, finance and administration, and life sciences and health. As a result, if an Ohio agency wants to embark on a complex data analytics project, they have a roadmap.

“We can identify the data sets that are will inform [the project], we can put that into a statement of work, we can drop it into the pre-qualified pool of vendors, they can come back with proposals, we can do these exploratory projects—we can do several of them at the same time, we can run them in parallel, we can do a whole lot of different things,” Davis said.

“But at the end of it I have the legal procurement legs to continue that work if we find something that came back that is really, really viable, and really valuable.”

It also allows the state to work with data sets that they may not own—or, perhaps, shouldn’t be accessing. “There’s certain things that state government should not know and should not look at,” Davis said. With the structure they have built, they can keep that data away from the hands of government, or, as he put it, “in a black box.”

Even as we spoke about their connected vehicles and the internet of things efforts, the issue of data became a centerpiece of the conversation. “I think the disruption is more about the data that will be collected and how that’s is going to be moved around, how it’s going to be protected, what we are going to do with that data and making sure we have appropriate use cases for that data,” Davis said.

In the end, as government looks toward the internet of things and larger questions around data, Davis believes it will need to ask itself a question: “What’s the purpose for the data they want to harness? And for the rest of it, just let it flow through and don’t touch it.”

Mitch Herckis is Senior Director of Programs at Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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