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Data Deadline Met, Florida Charges Ahead to Make Its Efforts Count for Citizens

Having met the Legislature's deadline to catalog state data, officials in Florida are continuing work on how information is organized, safeguarded and leveraged by agencies.

Officials in Florida have finished the first stage of cataloging state data streams on time, and though work is already underway on subsequent phases, the state’s top data official said the process will be “ongoing” as agencies gain a deeper awareness of the information they possess and work to leverage it.

Florida’s Chief Data Officer Burt Walsh told Government Technology that officials were able to meet a June 30 deadline set by the Legislature on inventorying the state’s numerous data sets. But what has been sought from agencies around the state, and chiefly compiled thus far, is the metadata about that data — rather than the actual data itself.

The underlying idea is to promote data sharing between state agencies and, as appropriate, with the public, Walsh said. But that will necessitate, he noted, good data governance — a key next step in understanding state information and how to use it.

The Legislature this spring extended the needed authority to continue the “collection of the enterprise data inventory,” Walsh said and charged his team with “providing recommendations for standards and technologies around open data.”

“Which is going to necessitate good data governance. You’re going to need these practices to do that well. So, we haven’t just been working on the inventory. We’ve been working on a level-set of another discipline,” Walsh explained.

Florida’s state agencies, he said, have “a huge variety” of data governance, partly because some are “driven by government mandate” and may have more mature governance. Accepted industry best practices do exist for data governance, the CDO said, but the challenge in thinking about such policies is “to take in the context and challenges of the state.”

“Where I’d like to get is (to) level-set over the core disciplines for data management, and to leverage the good work that agencies have done so that they can be used by other agencies,” Walsh said.

Erin Choy, spokeswoman for the Florida Agency for State Technology (AST), which develops policy to manage IT resources, characterized the process as “an ongoing effort” and noted that while the Legislature has given Walsh the authority to continue inventorying and cataloging state data, the state does not “compel agencies to submit their data sets.”

“So, what Burt has had to do in his role — and he’s been doing a wonderful job — he’s had to engender trust and earn the opportunity through multiple conversations and meetings, to understand each agency’s program area and how they’re using the data and learn, really, from a business standpoint,” Choy said.

Officials are able to leverage an existing state resource: the CKAN, an open source data catalog released in 2012 that aggregates open source technologies and allows meta data to be searched.

By the end of calendar 2018, Walsh said the plan is to move toward standing up a new enterprise-level data inventory incorporating that catalog; understanding and setting governance around its contents; and, ultimately, creating an open data portal.

“We wanted to get ourselves to a point where, when we got that enterprise data inventory, it would be kind of a vehicle to start [agencies] sharing data, so they need to have an understanding of those other components to do that well. Standing something like that up will be the way that we get to open data. And that’s our goal for the fiscal year,” Walsh said.

But even as officials drill down governance and cataloging data, they’re already beginning to work with agencies on problem-solving, beginning with open-source solutions but also reaching out to the vendor community. In one case, the AST is in “early phases” of working with an agency to create an indicator for job creation levels, the CDO said.

The catalog’s value is already becoming clear, Choy said, with policymakers able to clearly see available state data — but also gaining the ability to determine whether investments in, for example, juvenile diversion programs, are paying off.

“I think that’s a really exciting point and for folks who are not technical, they see the value in this because they can make very measured and appropriate policy decisions,” Choy said.

The larger goal here, as it was with CKAN, an Obama-era project done through the Open Government Initiative, is transparency, Walsh said: “how do we get that data, make sure it’s secure, has appropriate quality, but at the same time make it available for people to come up with creative ways to improve the lives of citizens.”

Theo Douglas is assistant managing editor for Industry Insider — California, and before that was a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.