Texas data coordinator plans information sharing, open data initiatives

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Texas’ new statewide data coordinator is pushing the state’s multitude of agencies to use data more effectively.

Ed Kelly told StateScoop that he’s already kicked off efforts to encourage agencies to share and post data since starting in the newly created role last September, but over the coming months, he’s hoping to see a major change in the way the state manages its info.

“Data is one of those types of things that changes the culture of an agency overall,” Kelly said. “I’ve only scratched the surface with what I’ve done so far.”

Kelly feels the Legislature recognized the need for just such a culture change across the state’s agencies when it passed the statute creating his position last year. He likens the role to that of a chief data officer for the state, and he believes his decade of experience working for the state (first with the Department of Public Safety, then the Department of Agriculture) positions him to lead this new push.

Upon stepping into the new role with the state’s Department of Information Resources, Kelly said his first goal was to get a handle on how Texas currently uses data. So far, he’s met with 27 state agencies, two of its higher education institutions and a variety of the companies it does business with to do some preliminary research.

But Kelly is also working to get agencies talking with each other about data, given how “decentralized” the state’s operations can be. He’s convened a “data governance and data sharing community” with regular meetings to get agencies to start sharing tricks of the trade.

“I’ve got agencies that have a chief data officer on board, and there are other agencies that are just starting out,” Kelly said. “There were some good conversations, like, ‘What did you do first? What did you do second? What templates did you use? What convincing factors did you work with your executive leadership to get things going?’”

Kelly noted that the meetings have already helped spur a new data-sharing initiative between agencies. After staff with the state Department of Agriculture and the Texas Veterans Commission started talking, they realized they could help each other in a big way — the agriculture department collects data on daycare facilities offering discounted meals for children from low-income, and the veterans group plans to start sharing that information as a resource for its members.

“Those are two disparate things where you’d maybe never connect the dots, but by virtue of having this meeting, there was a great dialogue and we then went off to go forward with that,” Kelly said.

Going forward, Kelly also hopes to use his old connections at the Department of Public Safety to promote similar data-sharing among state law enforcement agencies. In particular, he thinks agents with the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Commission could benefit from getting more information from the Department of State Health Services to help them use their time more efficiently.

“They’d like to look at it from a risk-based perspective so that they can reprioritize their compliance reviews,” Kelly said. “So if they got information about restaurants with health code violations, they may also have violations of the ABC, so they can effectively reprioritize those visits and inspections and look for ways to make sure they’re keeping the public safe.”

While agencies sharing data with each other is priority for Kelly, he also wants to see them share information more freely with the public as well.

He thinks the state’s made progress with its open data portal, but he’s made it a goal to increase the number of data sets available on the site. Specifically, he noted that many agencies already host public data on their own sites, but he wants to see it moved to one central location to make it easier to find.

But he envisions some larger changes coming to the portal as well.

“I’m looking at perhaps a rebranding of the portal to make the presentation more efficient,” Kelly said. “The search capability could be more effective to be able to create more outward consumption model reporting, what data sets are being used more than others, to really get some analytics around that piece of it.”

Kelly’s final area of focus involves giving agencies more robust data analytics tools. He said the state is about to set up a pilot of a “shared service model” of a tool to give state workers a look at real-time data generated by each agency.

Yet he noted that all these goals represent just the beginning of his efforts to make Texas a more data-friendly state.

“There’s a lot more out there for me to work with,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot of opportunity out there for this particular position.”

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Big Data, Data & Analytics, Ed Kelly, Legislation, Open Data, Open Government, State & Local News, States, Tech News, Texas, transparency
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