Comparing California's Data Officer to Other States

California named its first-ever chief data officer this summer when Zac Townsend assumed the position when he was appointed by the Brown administration. In doing so, California joined the growing ranks of states with a "CDO."

This story is limited to Techwire Insider members.
This story is limited to Techwire Insider members. Login below to read this story or learn about membership.
California named its first-ever chief data officer this summer when Zac Townsend assumed the position when he was appointed by the Brown administration. In doing so, California joined the growing ranks of states with a "CDO."

An annual survey of state CIOs released in September revealed that about one-third of states now have a chief data officer. Half of states do not, and the remainder are considering the idea.

"Interestingly, states take different approaches to locating the CDO, with CDOs reporting to the CIO twice as common as those reporting to a different element of the state government," the survey from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) reports.

Townsend's position is in that less common group: He works in the Government Operations Agency, reporting directly to Secretary Marybel Batjer — not the state CIO.

The NASCIO survey also says that "45 percent of respondents now have data governance policies in place, and 23 percent have implemented a formal data governance organization. However, there is still significant work to do in this area. While 71 percent of states have established standards for data classification and security, only 18 percent have data management and metadata standards in place, and only 25 percent have a strategy to deal with large volumes of data."

On those data management topics, in a recent interview with Techwire, Townsend said he expects one of his tasks and deliverables will be to identify "high-value" data sets across the government and make them publicly available on GovOps' new open data portal.

"I really want to focus on what do people want, what do they need, what's the most interesting, and then use the time, energy and effort I have to try to get some of that data released," Townsend said.

Townsend also said he's beginning to think about how to work on data standards for California, for how the state stores its data, what the metadata should look like, and how cities, counties and the state could share more effectively.

Much progress already has been made before he arrived as the state's chief data officer, Townsend said.

"I actually grade California quite highly when compared to other states. I think there's a very robust open data program. Once the open data portal is federated, I think we have nearly, if not the biggest, collection of data publicly available," Townsend said.

Matt Williams was Managing Editor of Techwire from June 2014 through May 2017.