Qlarion’s Virginia Data Revolution Kicks Off with a Focus on the State’s New Open Data Initiatives

Qlarion’s Virginia Data Revolution Kicks Off with a Focus on the State’s New Open Data Initiatives

Data lies at the heart of Virginia’s ongoing technology revolution. The state collects an enormous amount of information from various state agencies. This data presents a wealth of civic and business opportunities – if we can find ways to use it correctly.

The Virginia Open Data Initiative Act is set to put us on the right track. This bipartisan effort to “increase public awareness of and access to the data created by and available from state agencies” is poised to fundamentally change how state agencies and their constituents use information.

The Virginia Data Revolution is Here

The recent passage of the Act made it the perfect topic of conversation for the kickoff to Qlarion’s Virginia Data Revolution series. This series focuses on innovative and revolutionary steps the state is taking to harness its data – deciphering it, making it actionable, and opening it up to citizens.

The first event took place in Richmond on May 31 – the day after the passage of the Virginia Open Data Initiative Act. The packed schedule included networking opportunities and a keynote presentation from Josh Levi, vice president of policy, Northern Virginia Technology Council. Josh’s presentation was followed by a roundtable discussion featuring Josh and state and local government leaders, including the Honorable Kenya Conner, PhD, secretary of administration for the Commonwealth of Virginia; Debbie Condrey, CIO, Office of Information Management, Virginia Department of Health; Anthony Fung, former deputy secretary of technology for the Commonwealth of Virginia; and Murali Rao, CIO, Virginia Department of Transportation.

The Role of the Chief Data Officer

The creation of a Chief Data Officer (CDO) position is a key component of the Virginia Open Data Initiative Act, so it made sense that Josh’s presentation focused on the impact of Virginia’s new CDO. Virginia will follow 18 other states, as well as the District of Columbia, that already have CDOs in place.

Virginia’s status as a global technology leader necessitated the creation of the CDO role. Josh highlighted the need for an individual to coordinate information sharing between state and local agencies, institutions of higher education and businesses. That person would be responsible for managing how Virginia uses its data to improve government efficiency and operations, tackle policy and societal challenges, and promote economic development.

Virginia’s CDO will also develop guidelines pertaining to data usage and privacy, ensuring that the state follows the “proper purpose” rule. Proper purpose calls for agencies maintaining information systems to “collect, maintain, use, and disseminate only that personal information permitted or required by law to be so collected, maintained, used, or disseminated, or necessary to accomplish a proper purpose of the agency.”

Josh spoke about the Advisory Committee the state intends to establish to help the CDO establish guidelines and best practices for the handling of data. The committee will include legislators, representatives from institutions of higher education, citizens, the state Attorney General, and more. They will recommend permanent data governance structure to Governor Northam and the General Assembly, but there are open questions about who will ultimately comprise the committee and how its members will be chosen.

Questions Remain

Those aren’t the only questions that arose during the ensuing panel discussion that followed Josh’s keynote. Panelists engaged in a lively discussion that touched on data sharing among agencies, the legal framework surrounding the appointment of the CDO, and the functions and responsibilities of the person in that role. Panelists asked: How will data be managed and shared? How will the CDO impact Virginia’s agencies? Who will be responsible for managing data in the cloud, the CIO or CDO? Will the CDO have their own team and operating budget, or will funding continue to be maintained by individual state departments?

Panelists also offered some suggestions on “quick wins.” Several participants suggested the CDO should be granted the budget to develop pilot programs that would eventually be taken over by departments. They also proposed that the CDO have a role in helping agencies use the cloud, which could expedite the initiation of cloud services.

There was some disagreement over how to handle data privacy. Panelists pointed out that data security always defaults to the highest level, regardless of the data set. Some speakers felt this was necessary, while others believed that the default was appropriate for information pertaining to critical infrastructure and citizen health data, but may not be necessary for other types of data.

Everyone agreed that the Virginia Open Data Initiative Act will help further cement the state’s reputation as a technology leader. Qlarion will continue to play its part in this effort as the Virginia Data Revolution series continues throughout this year and beyond. Keep an eye on this space for more information about the next event. We hope to see you there!