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Florida Races to Catalog Its Data

With a looming deadline fast approaching, Florida’s new chief data officer is working against the clock to make sense of the wealth of data the state is sitting on.

Florida’s second-ever chief data officer (CDO), who arrived last month from the private sector, said he is already deep in talks with agency heads around the state and making progress toward an important mid-year data deadline.

Burt Walsh, most recently the principal solution architect/development lead, Amazon Web Services Group at DXC Technology, started as Florida’s CDO the week of Jan. 8, taking over for Nancy Sampson.

Like his predecessor, Walsh faces a tight June 30 deadline set by the Legislature to create a data catalog inventorying the state’s many data sets.

But agencies are already under way identifying their many informational assets, a process the CDO told Government Technology could potentially aid in de-siloing and reveal opportunities for information consolidation.

According to the state mandate, the catalog should include geospatial data used in agencies geographic information system (GIS); and recommended options and associated costs for developing and maintaining a machine-readable catalog.

“It’s figuring out the data sets, the assets that are available in the state, and it’s a wonderful starting point because you can’t improve if you don’t know what you have,” Walsh said.

Ultimately, the CDO said, the goal is to make state data available to other agencies and to the public, to improve residents’ experience with their government and enable the government to do the best job possible.

The catalog’s structure should also empower processes around meta-data management, master data management, data lineage provenance and data quality and security, Walsh said, noting that creating it will likely be something of an education for those involved as some state agencies are at differing levels of maturity with respect to data.

The CDO described himself as “pleasantly surprised” that agency-level chief information officers are already thinking big picture about data management and governance — areas where his office will have responsibility to lead and shape the enterprise-level view, all while standardizing data streams across agencies, eliminating duplication and promoting interoperability.

“The biggest thing we want to do is, we want to help — and this would be no different than in private industry. We want to help the individual agencies, which would be somewhat like business units for a company, drive their business, meet their key performance indicators,” said Walsh, who said his training in process evolution as a software architect has helped him in forging a strategy and vision as CDO.

“Leveraging that valuable asset, that data, to help the agency be as successful as possible serving the citizens of Florida. That’s the grand vision, that’s the hope. Our goal is to be a partner with the agency and be someone that helps the agency do their job,” he added.

State legislators haven’t always seen eye-to-eye with tech officials in their own government; and the Florida Agency for State Technology (AST), which develops policy to manage IT resources, manages the State Data Center and oversees tech projects, faced down a reorganization threat as recently as last year.

But also last year, AST was authorized to hire a CDO in the FY 2017-2018 General Appropriations Act.

Erin Choy, AST spokeswoman, said legislators this session are exploring some intriguing tech-centered bills, and called it “very encouraging that our legislative members are thinking about ways they can better serve our citizens with technology.”

These include House Bill 1357, which would direct the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to work with AST on implementing protocols and standards for issuing an optional digital driver’s license; and HB 771/Senate Bill 1042, which would create an option for online electronic notarization of forms.

Last week, the House also passed HB 7071, the Criminal Justice Data Transparency bill, which would declare a uniform data collection process an “important state interest” and require local and state criminal justice agencies to report such information and make it publicly available.

“That’s a huge step forward for our state, to have that, so they can make better policy decisions. I think those conversations are very positive and the respective chambers have had great support for these types of legislation. Because, again, data is our greatest asset,” Choy said.

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.