Pennsylvania’s First-Ever CDO Must Adapt to an Evolving Crisis

IT veteran David Partsch has taken over the newly created chief data officer post at a time when agencies and the public are looking to data to better understand the threat posed by the COVID-19 virus.

by / March 17, 2020
Pennsylvania Capitol Shutterstock/Jon Bilous

Pennsylvania has hired David Partsch as its first-ever chief data officer — a role that takes on special importance during a global pandemic. 

Partsch, who has held numerous IT positions since 1995, started the job on March 2. He previously served as a chief information and security officer in the public and private sectors — first for the West Virginia Health Information Network and later for health-care company InXite Health Systems. 

During Partsch's second week as Pennsylvania’s CDO, the state decided to close county offices in areas with confirmed cases of COVID-19, also known as the novel coronavirus. While Partsch has much to work on for the long term, responding to the pandemic has taken precedence over all else.

“From an internal standpoint, how are we communicating with our employees about updating data in real time about closures and proper procedures now that COVID-19 has hit?” Partsch said.

Specifically, the state must use data sets, visualizations, reports, dashboards and other tools to keep citizens informed about the outbreak. An important part of this effort involves putting together metrics that explain how well the state’s business units are handling service volumes, call center wait times, and the like, especially given that many state employees are working at home or off-site.   

“Those are the things we are focused on, and those are the priority going forward,” Partsch said. 

The IT veteran will have plenty to accomplish once concerns over the coronavirus die down. 

Pennsylvania created its CDO position last summer, with the intention of implementing an enterprise-wide role that would contribute to the establishment of a state data management and data governance strategy. The addition of the CDO position came with Gov. Tom Wolf’s July 2019 executive order that called for, among other things, the development of a “single online location and login for Pennsylvanians to access all commonwealth services.” 

Partsch pointed out that Pennsylvania has never had an enterprise-level data governance program, which will require a “change of mindset” about how data will be shared and when it should or should not be siloed. 

“The most important part is making sure there is buy-in across the key stakeholders in the commonwealth to make sure all the business units are continually engaged in this data governance program,” Partsch said. 

Currently, Pennsylvania does not know “the entire universe of data sets that are generated and managed by the commonwealth.” Partsch knows that tech will heavily influence the state’s ability to understand what it has at its disposal, though identifying the right tools for the work will take time and a lot of critical thought.

“The challenge will be taking the program we define at the data governance level and deploying it at the technology level to ensure that all the automation we put in place for tagging data for security, access rights, management control, and meeting regulatory requirements is aligned,” Partsch said. “Being able to implement and promote the right technologies to do that will be an extreme challenge.”

Jed Pressgrove Staff Writer

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.

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