Outside shot of the Virginia State Capitol, Richmond, V.A.

May 24 2022

Virginia Welcomes New Chief Data Officer with Big Plans

Ken Pfeil says his background in the financial sector translates well to his new role.

Virginia’s new chief data officer has been in the job for about a month and already has big plans for the future of data and analytics in the state.

Ken Pfeil tells StateTech his office is in the initial stages of designing an artificial intelligence/machine learning solution for predictive modeling and analytics that will benefit state agencies and their partners and has the potential to be “life changing” for Virginians. 

“We have two primary marching orders,” Pfeil says. “One: facilitate better decision-making processes to drive efficiency in government. Two: enhance and enrich the lives of Virginians wherever we can. Our predictive modeling and analytics cloud will be a game changer for this.”

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Pfeil, appointed by Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin in April, is only the second person to hold the title of chief data officer in the state. He succeeds Carlos Rivero, who left the job last November.

“While it may be a new title here in state government, CDO has existed in the private sector for a very long time. And much like private industry, we have data everywhere throughout our environment with a number of stakeholders and agencies,” Pfeil says. “It’s imperative that we establish common ways to leverage all of this data to facilitate intelligent decision-making processes.”

Pfeil’s Private Sector Background Prepared Him for the Public Sector

Pfeil describes the role of CDO as not only a technologist, but also a catalyst for change and someone who must have good communication skills to drive that change.

This is Pfeil’s first foray into government work following nearly 30 years in the private sector. Most recently, he was vice president and managing director of data protection and governance at the financial services company OneMain Financial. He has also worked as chief architect for TechDemocracy and as CISO for MFS Investment Management and Pioneer Investments. 

EXPLORE: Virginia nonprofits and private companies are compiling security best practices.

When asked how his previous experiences in the private sector prepared him for his new position as CDO, Pfeil says it wasn’t a great leap because information security is mainly data protection and governance, with fundamental concepts that span all sectors and industries.

“Some of the benefits of having financial sector experience translate well here, such as diversity of data stakeholders and the complexity of data due to different purposes and outcomes,” he says. “Just as in financial services, many people don't understand the value of some data they work with outside of the immediate context of what they use it for. This often creates barriers to sharing it. We’re hoping to change that.”

Data Sharing and Analytics Are Top Priorities for the New CDO

As StateScoop reports, the Virginia Office of Data Governance and Analytics has helped law enforcement and health authorities observe patterns and trends, including the tracking of opioid overdoses. The ODGA also helped monitor COVID-19 outbreaks and enact mitigation measures.

Pfeil highlights the Virginia Open Data Portal, a collaborative project of ODGA and the Library of Virginia to expand access to state data. The portal allows users to see stories and dashboards, create visualizations, filter data and import it into other systems using application programming interfaces.

“Secure and appropriate data sharing is fundamental to the success of our society because information supports engagement,” ODGA’s website states. “Commonwealth data is a strategic asset that when leveraged, can drive innovation, increase quality of life, and promote economic growth.”

DIVE DEEPER: How leaders are sharing data and breaking down data silos to improve services.

DataSAGE, Virginia’s Secure Analytics and Governance Environment, launched in 2020, is another example, with more than 1,400 data systems that hold open and restricted data assets, including de-identified data as well as personally identifiable information. DataSAGE is the technical implementation of the Commonwealth Data Trust, which then-CDO Rivero described to Forbes as “a safe, secure and legally compliant information sharing environment that establishes consistent requirements for trust members through a standardized data sharing agreement process.”

Pfeil also points to the Commonwealth of Virginia Enterprise Reporting Solution, a “value-added component to participating in the Commonwealth Data Trust that provides Commonwealth agencies the infrastructure, system lifecycle administration services and human resources needed to manage the deployment and consumption of business intelligence products.”

CoVERS allows agencies to publish the business intelligence products they need without having to develop and manage their own digital infrastructure, which frees them to focus on serving citizens, Pfeil says.

Looking ahead, Pfeil’s goals for the CDO office are simple: “Execute on what we do well and change what we don't. Continue to build consensus and trust between agencies, as well as with my office. Assist where we can, and make a change for the better.”

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