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Data sharing tips from Colorado Chief Data Officer Dianna Anderson

Colorado was the first state in the US to create the role of the Chief Data Officer in 2009. FutureGov spoke to Dianna Anderson, the Chief Data Officer of the State of Colorado about their progress in using data and the challenges of sharing data across its 17 state agencies.

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Joining up government as one would in a merger & acquisition
These agencies hold their data in different places, from separate mainframes to multiple databases. “Setting up infrastructure and governance to allow data sharing is a huge challenge. This is especially true for the State of Colorado, that like most governments have systems that are outdated and a limited technology budget,” said Anderson.

Each agency also has its own organisational culture, she explains. So when dealing with these data silos, Anderson takes the approach of a company taking over another firm: “Just think of it like a merger and acquisition. I’m a big company that has just acquired another organisation. How am I going to merge data with that enterprise?” said Anderson, who is considering whether to have a “master data management approach” and a unified database that consolidates all data across the entire enterprise.

Starting with health agencies
One of the first projects she has undertaken is getting the state’s health-related agencies to share data. “I’m taking baby steps by starting with three agencies that naturally need to share information and work closely together. I call them my ‘health domain’ - the Department of Human Services, the Department of Public Health and Environment, and the Department of Healthcare Policy and Financing,” she said.

Anderson believes that this is a good place to start not only because there is some natural synergy among the three departments, but because health is an area that has a particularly large impact on citizens.

Following two and a half years of preparation, the project launched last September. The data shared are around eligibility and service quality, for example: are people getting served in a reasonable time frame, and what are the demographics of the people who are consuming health services, she said. At this point, Anderson is not looking to share health records across the three health departments.

Next step: Education, labour & industry
Anderson is now starting to meet up with other agencies that she knows have a need to share information. For example, to help new graduates. “The Department of Education will definitely benefit from working with a number of other agencies. As our students graduate, the Department of Labour and Employment gets involved to track if we are retaining these graduates. The Department of Higher Education and the Office of Economic Development need to be exchanging data to find out if we are preparing our future workforce adequately to support the businesses here.”

Data Governance
The next hurdle that Anderson wants to cross is putting in place a data governance framework. “Right now, I know the people [working on the data initiative] very well, so we have a loosely defined governance model. But as I scale, we [will] need a formal process in place,” she noted.

A strong governance model requires multiple agencies and officials working together, she continued. There must be close collaboration between the data owners - the people who really understand the data, how to protect data, and the rules and regulations around it - as well as the IT team.

As Anderson starts more data initiatives across the state and firms up the governance process, she knows she cannot do it alone, so she has also put in a budget request to build a team next year. In the near future, she expects to see some results from the data sharing project with the health agencies. That success, she hopes, will inspire more of the 17 state agencies within Colorado to open up their data silos.

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