The relatively new role of the state chief data officer is catching on, with a designated professional support network, growing public pressure for data-based policies, and more than half of U.S. states now staffing.
The purpose of this story was to find out exactly how many state chief data officers there are, but as a moving target with nuanced terms, it’s not a simple figure to assess.
In July 2018, the last time Government Technology made a list, 21 states had a CDO. (California, Massachusetts and Michigan were mistakenly omitted.) That number has climbed to 28, not counting Washington, D.C., and given several caveats: Four are not technically called CDOs, but similar or equivalent positions like “data management architect” or “director of applications”; three are currently filled by an interim or acting staff member; and eight are currently vacant or hiring.
This data, available in detail in the map above, is based on calls and emails to state governments, as well as prior news coverage, the State CDO Network and LinkedIn.
During the past 18 months, eight states — Arizona, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and Wyoming — appear to have established a state CDO or similar position. Of the 22 states that don’t have a CDO, seven of them are either planning to create the position or exploring the need for one: Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
Uniquely, the state of Alabama had a CDO but eliminated the position in September 2019, a little more than a year after creating it. Alabama CIO Marty Redden, who officially became secretary of the state’s IT office in November 2019, did not respond to requests for comment.
Tyler Kleykamp, founder and director of the State Chief Data Officers Network, said Colorado was the first state to create a CDO position in 2011. New York, Illinois and Connecticut were soon to follow, and every year since then has seen a few more states join the list. He said most CDOs work within the state IT apparatus, under a CIO who created the role administratively. Some larger states with more resources have done it via legislation or executive order, which Kleykamp said amounts to a helpful statement of broad support for the idea. But the impetus across the board has been a growing recognition of data as a strategic asset — something that can improve policy or the delivery of public services.
“A lot of the responsibilities that are being placed on CDOs have historically been filled by the chief information officer or a chief technology officer in the state,” Kleykamp said. “States are beginning to realize that data is more than just a thing they collect to do their business and administer programs. It has value beyond the purpose for which it was initially collected.”
Data being a strategic asset, Kleykamp explained three main components of traditional asset management: It needs to be maintained, accounted for, and put to its highest and best use. With data, he said, “maintained” means data governance, or life-cycle management of data; “accounted for” means some form of data inventory; and “highest and best use” means innovative ways to leverage data that already exists.
Kleykamp said a CDO should be not only a technical person, but also someone knowledgeable enough about public policy and service delivery to make data useful. By overseeing the integration of data across different statewide systems, for example, a CDO might help the state answer questions about whether giving children medical insurance through Medicaid leads to better educational outcomes.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean the CDO has to be responsible for doing the full sweep of analytics around that,” Kleykamp said. “It could be that they’re advising the real policy experts in terms of, how do you get data out of these two systems and match records of individuals that don’t have common, unique identifiers? How do you de-identify data in a way that makes it legally permissible to use it? What are the best tools, or the best approach from an analytics perspective, to answer that question?”
Whether a state creates the CDO position administratively or legislatively, Kleykamp mentioned two critical factors in their success: that they have the support of the state government from the start, and that they have a place in the established chain of communication. Given both those things, they might also need time to set up long-term projects.
“Leadership in states need to have a very clear idea of the critical questions that they want to be able to answer through the use of data, and they need to make sure those are communicated to the chief data officer, as well as the agencies they’re going to work with,” he said. “[CDOs] are often an office of one, charged with figuring it out. When [states] create these, they don’t have a lot of resources to dedicate to them. The value proposition to a legislature can be a little bit murky, so they may need more than four years to really get something off the ground that’s sustainable and well-resourced.”
In Wisconsin, CIO David Cagigal said early drafts of legislation are in the works to create a chief analytics officer position, effectively the same thing as a CDO, who will report to state administration and have a staff of less than six. He doesn’t expect the position to be approved before 2021, but said a key part of it will be a data-sharing agreement for crossing departmental lines while protecting citizen privacy. The result, he said, could make data useful not only to state officials, but to legislators and citizens. He already has use cases in mind, such as investigating causes of the opioid epidemic.
“Anything and everything that has a question associated with it, we should be able to answer with the data we sit on. We transact business every day … In our mainframe area, we have 15 billion transactions that are processed, ranging from corrections to health services to the Department of Revenue’s taxes,” Cagigal said. “So when we’re looking at the opioid crisis, we look at multiple agencies, we bring that data together and look at trends and predictions.”
However the structure and function of the state CDO evolves, Kleykamp foresees it continuing to grow, in general, as states begin to see the value of data in new ways. He said leaders already expect answers to critical questions in short amounts of time, and that’s not likely to change, especially as a new generation of political leadership comes to power that grew up with computers. He also speculated that the political appointment of CDOs might become more common once lower-level staffers are in place.
“In the long term, I think as the role matures and we figure out the best way to establish and resource it, it could ultimately become more valuable to make that more of a political appointment, so you have a more direct connection to the governor in the state,” he said. “Then, since you have staffed CDO officers, you don’t lose that institutional knowledge.”
Kleykamp mentioned several groups either advocating or exploring the role of CDOs in state government, including the Beeck Center at Georgetown University where he works, and the nonprofit Results for America, which is studying how states leverage data and evidence to inform public policy.
To his knowledge, Kleykamp’s own State CDO Network is the only group specifically focused on helping current or possible state CDOs do their job.
“We’re here to be a resource for any state that’s thinking about doing it, that wants advice about what’s working in states and how it would benefit them,” he said. “We’ll be generating things like templates to conduct a data inventory, or a playbook for them to use, say, around better integrating data across systems. We’ll also be doing some work on specific public policy areas where we think states are primed and uniquely positioned to have a positive impact.”
Besides keeping an email list and a trove of documents and data resources, Kleykamp said the State CDO Network hosts quarterly in-person meetings, a monthly video conference call and occasional webinars, based on interest and availability. Recently, for example, Kentucky’s CDO Krishna Mupparaju did a webinar on how to launch a state longitudinal data system.
“We’re here to help states better leverage their data,” he said.