In a few weeks, the Utah State Capitol will transition into a beehive of activity as the annual legislative session gets underway and continues for 45 days.
Hundreds of bills will be passed
during that short span, and a multi-billion dollar budget will be approved. It is a rite that occurs 50 times over in state capitals across the nation. Supporting these massive legislative endeavors are rivers of data, which arm the analysts and staff, who must be prepared to respond to questions from legislators and constituents at a moment' notice.
Governments run on data. Each time a piece of legislation is prepared, you can count on associated requests for data associated with it. There is the financial analysis that must support the rationale for the bill. A case in point was a bill passed last year to reduce the number of required motor vehicle inspections in Utah. The bill's sponsor made sure that he requested data not just about the number of annual inspections, but how many vehicles failed
to pass inspection each year and the reason for failure. Data specialists quickly compiled the report, but before it could even be presented, more detail was requested. Some of the
data could not be delivered because it did not exist, because current operations do not always track everything that might only be needed for future policy.
Every bill comes with its own set of data requirements and the hundreds of bills presented each legislative session cover a range of diverse topics from transportation and public safety
to healthcare and education. State government IT organizations have some of the broadest set of data requirements anywhere. This includes private health data with some of the strictest protection requirements, mountains of GIS data, and a growing volume of unstructured data that is still relatively untapped.
States began to open up more of their data sources several years ago as the open data movement began to grow. Many states have created open data portals, such as data.ca.gov in California or Utah's data.utah.gov. Others are partnering with the federal government's open data portal at states.data.gov.
In 2013, you can expect many states to begin to make their data more meaningful to citizens and businesses. Dashboards and visualization efforts will make it more presentable, while the
creation of user-focused APIs and apps will enhance data usability.
State-level activities are also being impacted by larger federal initiatives, such as the Education Data Initiative introduced last summer. The US Department of Education is working with data owners in state government to make education-related data available, machine-readable, and accessible, while ensuring personal privacy is protected. These kinds of targeted initiatives by the federal government heavily impact the states, even creating new governance structures for data stewardship.
As new data and new tools improve the quality of analysis and our understanding of political and social issues, you can expect even more data-related legislation and policy making. But before we get there, it is up to CIOs to make sense of a constant flow of structured and unstructured information.