Moving Mountains: Sharing data on both sides of the Continental Divide

In this third, and final, look at Colorado’s Office of Information Technology, CivSource spoke with State Chief Data Officer Micheline Casey about the challenges and opportunities of integrating a data management strategy within an enterprise framework at the state level.

According to the market research firm IDC, the amount of digital information produced by the modern world is expected to double in size every 18 months. In 2008, that number was calculated to be 487 billion gigabytes – enough data to fill 237 billion Amazon Kindles, 30 billion Apple iPod Touches or 162 trillion digital photos. As staggering as these numbers are, governments are also grappling with the proliferation of digital information produced on a daily basis – perhaps more so.

Tax forms, online permits, police reports, electronic health records, budget information, digital meeting minutes, first responder communications and just about anything else you can think of that produces data is being gathered, analyzed, stored, used, ignored and leveraged in today’s public sector.

Although much has been discussed about the role of data in recent months, through the President’s Open Government Directive and other initiatives, the basic management and survey of any one agency’s data landscape can be daunting – let alone an entire state. But that is exactly what Micheline Casey has been mandated to do as Colorado’s Chief Data Officer.

Ms. Casey has the unique distinction of being the nation’s only statewide data officer, responsible for developing a statewide data strategy and standing up a data management program. She’s in charge of everything from architecture and cleansing issues to quality assurance and master data management.

“We have varying levels of quality and security in our data at the state level,” Casey told CivSource in an interview. “And we’ve got a lot of duplication of data that’s incorrect, and unfortunately, it’s driving business decisions like eligibility, funding, and resource allocations.”

Legislative legitimacy

So, as part of two key legislative pieces passed in 2008 and 2009, Colorado created a central governing structure for enterprise data sharing initiatives, and according to Ms. Casey, gave permission for state agencies to begin sharing information to drive better decision-making.

HB 08-1364 (.pdf)
created the Data Protocol Development Council and ensured that the state complied with federal and other state laws when sharing data, such as HIPPA for example. “1364 basically said, ‘in absence of overriding federal state law, it’s ok to share,’” Casey said. “But confidentiality, privacy, FERPA, HIPPA are always top of mind.”

HB 09-1285 (.pdf)
established the Government Data Advisory Board, composed of four Governor-appointed members and chaired by the Chief Data Officer. The four appointed positions include individuals from city, or county-level government, a school board member, a school employee and someone from higher education or some other nongovernmental organization. The remaining seats of the Board are comprised of representatives from nine executive agencies, including public safety, revenue, human services and education, among others.

According to Casey, the two pieces of legislation went a long way in providing agencies with guidance on the types of information they could share, while helping overcome cultural barriers associated with collaboration and information sharing. “Agencies are real concerned, from a liability perspective, about sharing. But what we’ve found is that often times those are artificial barriers – we’ve been working hard to break down those barriers and focus on the real barriers.”

OIT Chief of Staff Dara Hessee said the legislation was proof of a “collaborative effort between Governor Ritter, state CIO Michael Locatis and legislators to effect changes.”

“We’re so lucky to have these collaborative efforts going on in such a strong way,” Ms. Casey added.

Currently, there is talk of amending the bill to expand membership, Casey said, to include other branches of government, including the Judiciary, Secretary of State, Attorney General and Treasury. “Most of them do a lot of sharing and are willing partners and want to participate.”

Major Data-Sharing Initiatives

“As disparate groups come together around their shared topics of interest, they’re starting to see the value of data sharing and data driving performance management,” Ms. Casey said of those agencies involved with early childhood service delivery and juvenile justice. “What they’ve got in common is that they’re trying to use data to drive decisions, and we’re working through all of the processes, policies and procedures we have at an enterprise level.”

Colorado has multiple data sharing initiatives spanning silos and levels of government. The State’s longitudinal data system for K-12 and higher education and the Colorado Integrated Criminal Justice Information System are good examples of how the state is working with local government, state agencies and federal officials in making data-driven decisions.

The state is not only focused on performance measurement improvement, but also citizen services improvements as well.

“By getting a better handle on data, we can actually impact the types of services we can put on our state web portal,” Casey said. “If we’re able to manage better data and integrate more effectively, while ensuring identity management, we can drive more services online and get people out of customer services centers and long lines.”

Although Ms. Casey knows the state is still very early in the process, she’s optimistic about the next phase of data sharing.

“We’re setting up to really start innovating and exploring what’s possible with our data sets.”

Moving Mountains was a three-part look, examining Colorado’s Office of Information Technology’s consolidation plan, C2P, from both a workforce and technological perspective. To read the first two installments, click here. To read OIT’s 2010 report, outlining the agency’s transformation, click here.

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