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Matthew Rensch Named Iowa’s First Chief Data Officer

Iowa is the latest state to establish a state IT position dedicated to data management. Rensch comes to the role by way of the Iowa Department of Transportation, where he served as director of the Highway Support Office.

Matthew Rensch, who has worked in IT and data governance at the Iowa Department of Transportation, has been named the state’s first chief data officer.

The CDO is a new area of concentration for the state. Rensch, who began in the position Nov. 8, plans to head up several initiatives such as developing a master data management strategy, creating a data governance strategy proposal, as well as working with agencies to implement a data governance strategy, he said.

“I believe that public agencies are coming to realize the wealth of information they have been collecting over the years and how that information can be used, not only to tell them what happened, but what could happen under certain circumstances,” said Rensch.

Rensch worked in the private sector from 2013 to 2016 for companies like Athene USA and Berkley Technology Services. Rensch became director of highway support within the Iowa Department of Transportation in 2016, a position he held until being named CDO.

“The skills and experience I bring to the role are over 30 years in the IT field, private as well as public sector,” said Rensch. “I have also spent the last five years working with business areas to establish data governance strategies and assist in the analytical uses of that data, most recently with the Iowa Department of Transportation.”

The formation of a position to explore data development and how to put it to use is a relatively new move in the halls of public IT. A 2018 state CIO survey by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) found that 38 percent of respondents had recently hired a state chief data officer.

In a similar 2017 survey, 50 percent of respondents reported that their state did not have a CDO, and 9 percent reported that the position was "under consideration."

The proliferation of data generated across a number of departments and agencies is highlighting the need for more collaboration and coordination related to how this data can be used to drive improved decision-making.

“I also believe that public agencies are realizing that being siloed is not an approach that helps promote efficient government,” said Rensch.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.