Q&A With Tony Fung, Former Deputy Secretary of Technology, Office of the Governor, Virginia

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May 15, 2018

Q&A With Tony Fung, Former Deputy Secretary of Technology, Office of the Governor, Virginia

Tony Fung is the CEO of GovInsight and the former Deputy Secretary of Technology, Office of the Governor, Virginia under the McAuliffe administration. 

What is GovInsight and what types of projects are you working on?

GovInsight is a boutique consulting firm that serves all levels of governments as well as the companies that work with government, providing advice on the strategic use of technology. Having been a public servant and a government contractor for more than 20 years, serving both in the public and private sector, we are uniquely positioned to bridge the gap and help companies better understand what government needs and to advise government agencies on where technology trends are headed.

What accomplishment(s) are you most proud of during your time working for the state of Virginia?  

I’m most proud of the fact that the state’s data analytics capabilities grew significantly. They are now using data more to improve outcomes for citizens and increase efficiency throughout state government. We were able to tackle a lot of things – like Executive Directive 7 (leveraging the use of shared data and analytics) with Governor McAuliffe –that allowed us to identify new opportunities to use data more as a best practice. We also had initiatives, like Virginia’s first enterprise open data portal, which pulled together open data sources from the state agencies into one consolidated portal.

Additionally, we implemented an internship program that was focused on data and analytics. We worked with a number of state universities — UVA, Virginia Tech, VCU — and paired up graduate students with state agencies that needed data scientists to help derive insights from an agency’s data or identify projects that would benefit from a data analytics effort. We really tried to create a culture of change and to encourage agencies to adopt a more data-driven approach. Data analytics is not just a technology challenge but also requires a shift in culture.

Lastly, there was also a contract vehicle developed for data analytics through the Virginia Information Technology Agency (VITA) that received a tremendous response from the vendor community. What is unique about that contract vehicle is that the contract holders are required to provide a no-cost pilot to at least one or more agencies. The pilot projects allow the agencies to be able to explore opportunities with the companies to derive additional value from the agency’s data. The pilots also give agencies a chance to see what the vendors can do without a big commitment of funding. Some of these pilots have been so successful, that they evolved into bigger projects.

Can you give us a few examples of Virginia programs that are deriving new insights or rolling out new citizen services as a result of data analytics? 

The insights we’ve generated to date have led us to adjust existing programs or re-allocate resources. The best example is the Virginia Longitudinal Data System (VLDS) where there are a number of agencies providing and sharing de-identified data so researchers can study what services have the greatest positive impact on Virginia families — from kindergarten through entering the workforce. As a result, the state’s agencies and policy makers can better understand how all the different pieces of government are working together and act on that information to improve outcomes for citizens.

What is the biggest opportunity for Virginia in regards to data analytics — and what project do you think the state should tackle next? 

There’s a huge opportunity for Virginia to improve citizen outcome even more by knocking down some of these silos I’ve mentioned and fostering more collaboration where multiple agencies are serving the same population. For example, public safety, healthcare, and education would all benefit from enhanced data sharing that would enable a more holistic view of how programs are impacting citizen lives; that isn’t possible by looking at data in silos.

As Virginia considers hiring a Chief Data Officer, what qualities do you think they should look for? 

My advice would be to look for a collaborator who can work across different agencies and bring them into a trust framework for data sharing. People tend to think of the technical pieces when talking about data and analytics, but you need someone who is going to build bridges during times of cultural change. The chief data officer should be a strong evangelist for data governance and quality and focus on the strategic value of data analytics in a citizen centric/enterprise model. The right hire would be someone who has all those qualities and more to be successful.