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Virginia Tackles Pandemic Response, Opioid Crisis with Data

CDO Carlos Rivero explains how he aligns his priorities with the CIO’s, how COVID-19 accelerated Virginia’s data governance strategy and how his time with the Federal Transit Administration informs state-level work.

Virginia Chief Data Officer Carlos Rivero.
In 2018 Carlos Rivero was named Virginia’s first chief data officer, charged with establishing guidelines for data use and privacy as well as coordinating data sharing between different parts of the state government. Recently, Rivero talked to GT about his efforts to transform business intelligence capabilities in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

1. As CDO, how closely do you work with the state CIO to make sure your efforts are aligned?

CIO Nelson Moe and I work together very closely. We both report to Secretary of Administration Keyanna Conner. We meet once a week with the secretary, and we also meet every other week to identify the technology projects I want or need to implement to move my initiatives forward and how his organization can help facilitate that, not just from a security standpoint, but from a procurement and IT governance standpoint. We work to make sure the work I am doing fits within the enterprise model of the services his organization provides.

2. Did your office have to shift gears to support the state’s pandemic response effort?

We had the data governance framework in place, so when the pandemic hit, we needed to accelerate deployment of all our capabilities. Here’s one example: We were already working on a Workforce Referral Portal, an online portal that facilitates individuals’ engagement with different workforce services. Previously, if you wanted to access workforce services, you had to physically go to a career services center. Because of the pandemic, those centers were shut down. How do you get access to unemployment insurance or training and certification or job search help? There are multiple organizations within the state providing workforce-related services and we brought their data assets together. Now, when you log in, it automatically creates an account with each of those organizations’ systems and puts the onus on them to contact you to follow up. And we created a series of performance management dashboards that look at the metrics around how long it takes someone to go through the process once they submit their eligibility request and how long it takes the provider to respond. Being able to look across the state at the different workforce services we are providing and the demand for those services is one of the key intelligence aspects of this platform. 

3. What did you learn as CDO at the Federal Transit Administration that you could apply to state work?  

At the FTA, I was fortunate enough to be the chief enterprise architect as well as the chief data officer, so I had cradle-to-grave control over data, from collection to use in the business intelligence environment. That dual role gave me a lot of control over how our data was created, governed and used, which facilitated our ability to build out a variety of intelligence solutions. That experience gave me a good understanding of what it takes in each of the executive branch agencies of state government to implement appropriate data governance over our assets. The 63 executive branch agencies in the commonwealth all operate in different business sectors. You can’t just come in and make wholesale changes in how these systems operate. You have to understand how these systems function culturally and implement appropriate governance to help everyone get up to speed on policies and practices to move the organization forward without breaking the bank or making enemies or giving people a lot of work that they just don’t have the resources to do.    

The legislation that created my position mandated that the CDO would work on an opioid pilot project to demonstrate the value of data sharing and analytics to solve a complex problem. That was a key draw to come to the state.

The project started with the Northern Shenandoah Valley Substance Abuse Coalition partnering with our Department of Criminal Justice Services. I guided them in what I thought was the most meaningful way to showcase how data sharing and analytics could help. The goal now is to empower community leaders with access to information to help them make data-driven decisions in every aspect of the opioid crisis they deal with, whether that is law enforcement, health services or community services. The premise is that the integration of disparate data sets will help identify and quantify the relationships between multiple metrics and help present them in an easily digestible way to help a variety of stakeholders.

David Raths is a contributing writer for Government Technology magazine.