Lost Opportunities in Government – The CDO

Just read a great blog post by Logan Kleier, the Information Security Officer for the City of Portland on the lost opportunities that US cities face because of how the CIO role in most cities has devolved. Chief Information Officers are present as senior or cabinet level technology professionals in many large cities and counties, many are incredibly innovative and forward thinking individuals, but as Logan very cohesively states:

“In order to manage this transformation of computing and storage power, city governments followed the private sector’s lead and created Chief Information Officers (CIOs). However, something went wrong. CIOs started managing the infrastructure and not the actual information. No one was managing the lifecycle of the data. In fact, an environmental scan of the 20 largest cities technology initiatives shows that most of their work isn’t around improving data access or decision-making. Instead, it’s about managing device and network lifecycles.”

His summary rings true with my experiences partnering with many municipal agencies. It’s even worse in places like Oakland where we don’t even have a CIO level position- technology just gets relegated to a “fix my computer, nerd” type of role in government, and this is both stupid and counterproductive. Instead of realizing technology as a huge leverage point for cities, we label tech folks as nerds and never really capitalize on their abilities or potential.

So many cities and counties appear to be crippled by the lack of strategic use of data and information (and tech too, different tale though), and to me this stems from the way we’ve relegated IT to a desktop support role.  Time after time I’ve seen agencies struggling to manage their data, operate in complete ignorance of what other agencies may have, use clunky, time wasting tools to “analyze” their data and make poor decisions as a result. It’s so clear to outside data geeks when cities present poorly synthesized data to support a policy or decision. Yet our elected leaders don’t seem to connect this consistently poor planning and research with the fact that they have no-one responsible for managing the rich data resources the city generates, nor for leveraging those resources in strategic ways.

When data does get applied to a decision making process it also seems to lack any level of contextual awareness from the users- again something that is abundantly clear to external planners, researchers and analysts. To me this results in a continuous stream of poorly reasoned, barely supported by data, in-justifiable policies. And it doesn’t need to be this way. When we devalue Information, bundle it with technology support and cripple it with siloed responsibilities we cannot expect more from the outcomes. Our municipal leaders need to recognize the huge strategic and operational benefits of thoughtful data use in government, and take steps to leverage this resource. As I’ve said before, the first step is to appoint a Chief Data Officer for the City of Oakland and the County of Alameda. Both these government bodies would realize enormous benefits from investing in this position. I’d ask the elected leaders in these governments to take a quick read of Logan’s post to see why this really matters, from a very independent source!

The Case for a Municipal Chief Data Officer.

Logan is twittering from @PortlandInfoSec