Open Data Moving Forward in California, But Not Everyone Is Ready for It
In the wake of our report, Open Data in California, released in March, we’ve seen a tidal wave of movement in California to formalize a statewide policy on open data.
We made several recommendations on how to best utilize open data at the state level to provide the most benefits – to business owners, elected officials, and consumers. We recommended creating a chief data officer position, provided guidelines on file formatting, and urged prioritization of high-value data sets from around the state.
Since our report came out, four open data bills have seen rapid progress in the legislature:
SB 573/AB 1215 – Senator Richard Pan (D – Sacramento)/Assemblyman Phil Ting (D – San Francisco); mandates the appointment of a Chief Data Officer for the state.
SB 272 – Senator Bob Hertzberg (D – Van Nuys); requires local governments to publish data sets.
AB 169 – Assemblyman Brian Maienschein (R – San Diego); establishes formatting guidelines for data sets.
We’re grateful to these legislators for their receptivity to our report and hope these measures follow SB 573, which passed the senate yesterday, toward the governor’s pen.
Legislators from both sides of the aisle have recognized the benefits that proper management of open data can bring to California and are working to ensure the state’s place in the data revolution.
Still, while the private sector will be able to jump on the benefits of open data almost immediately, a huge segment of California’s population will be left behind – not because the policies will be ineffective or incomplete, but because this group lacks the technological ability to reap the benefits open data can provide. This large group of involuntary luddites comprises the people seeking to implement it: the state government.
According to the Sacramento Bee, between 1994 and 2013, the state spent nearly $1 billion on seven computer projects that were either suspended or terminated outright. This record does not bode well for the state’s IT infrastructure, which must become ready to implement the sweeping new requirements for the publication of government data.
To be clear, open data in California needs to happen, and it will happen. California officials possess the knowledge and ability to implement the release of high-value data sets correctly and accurately. But for the state to take full advantage of its own open data initiative, and ensure that its rollout goes smoothly, there must also be an effort on the part of the state to enhance its technological efficiency.
Recent efforts to improve efficiency include a list of recommendations emanating from a task force convened by Gov. Brown last year. Budget cuts and understaffing has put the agency in a difficult position.
California’s IT procurement process continues to adhere to statutory requirements that are rigid and provide little room for dialogue between state agencies and the technology vendors they hire. This results in headlines like “$96 million California IT project late, flawed, busting budget” that surely give California Department of Technology Director Carlos Ramos heartburn.
As the path is clearing for open data in California, private sector entrepreneurs are ready to pounce on new opportunities like a NASCAR car driver waiting for the green flag. When open data does come, the state must be ready to take full advantage of it. Through reforms in IT procurement, the state will be primed to benefit from open data as much as anyone.