CIO Mark VanOrden Discusses Utah's New Open Data Portal

Utah is aiming to have all state and local open data online by December 2016

by / March 2, 2015
Mark VanOrden, CIO, Utah David Kidd/e.Republic

Mark VanOrden became executive director of the Utah Department of Technology Services in 2012, after serving for several months as the department’s acting director. Prior to that, VanOrden spent six years as IT director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. He began his career with the state in 1982. Government Technology talked to VanOrden about Utah’s newly launched open data portal.

Why is the state launching an open data site?

Financial transparency information, including payroll data, for state and local entities in Utah has been available online for a number of years. Last year, our state Legislature passed a bill to take this further and add all open or public data to a central website. We got funded for this on July 1. Using tools from Socrata, we created the initial release of opendata.utah.gov on Jan. 1, with about 900 data sets. We’re still growing; this is the first phase.

We have a data coordinator who is working with the agencies. Our goal is to have all open data for all government entities in Utah on this site by December 2016.

How are users reacting?

We’ve gotten about 700,000 page views on the site in about six weeks, and we’ve done very little to publicize it. We’re really happy with the amount of use it’s getting so far, and it’s getting a lot of positive Twitter chatter.

How difficult was this to launch?

Some of this was low-hanging fruit. We have 22 executive branch agencies in Utah, and all of them have some open data that’s available on their own websites. So we’ve been going to these sites and consolidating the information and putting it in a format that’s reusable. We make it available for download in seven or eight formats.

The tools allow us to create an API that updates the data automatically. But getting all of those in place is probably the more challenging part. We also have some cities involved. Salt Lake City is already on there. Other cities like Logan and Provo are expressing interest.

How will open data in Utah evolve?

I’d like to take data that’s not traditionally seen as open data, cleanse it of private and personal information and make that available as well. A good example is unemployment insurance data or Medicaid data. If we cleanse it of names and Social Security numbers, then we can publish that data.  

The Socrata tools let you make charts or maps with the data. We have legislators who want to do this for their districts. So we’re working to let them map or chart this out by legislative district, or by ZIP code or county. 

Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.