Ken Pfeil Chief Data Officer, Virginia Office of Data Governance and Analytics

Sep 13 2022

Q&A: Ken Pfeil Elevates the Role of Data in Virginia

The commonwealth’s chief data officer has big ideas about how to help people.

In April 2022, Ken Pfeil took on the role of chief data officer in Virginia’s Office of Data Governance and Analytics.

He’s got a full plate, working to drive data availability across state government while laboring to have his temporarily authorized agency turned into a permanent government office.

StateTech caught up with Pfeil to talk about the role of the chief data officer and the emerging uses of data in support of state government.

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STATETECH: What’s at the top of your agenda today?

Pfeil: At the very top of our agenda is building out a comprehensive, commonwealthwide analytics platform for predictive modeling and things of that nature for all of our agencies. With that, we can enable better efficiencies, eliminate redundancies and show cost savings at the agency level.

We should have at least 10 agencies onboarded into the predictive analytics models toward the end of the fall, utilizing a federated pass-through model from us so that they can work with their data. We’ll also get them the training they need to use that portal.

We’re working on more tactical things as well, from building out dashboards based on certain data to providing corollaries of data across different agencies. We’re trying to help them find that missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle that enables a business outcome.

RELATED: How data is driving decision-making and efficiency in Virginia.

STATETECH: What are some of the specific technologies involved?

Pfeil: We are primarily a Microsoft shop, so we use a lot of Power BI and Azure. We do work with other cloud services, Google and AWS, because we’ve got some local agency preferences. When that data is uploaded, we need to find ways to get it into our data lake so that we can format the information in a way that makes sense.

For the advanced analytics platform, we’re going to be implementing Vertica, and hopefully we’ll revisit a single sign-on portal, probably using Okta.

DISCOVER: How municipalities are using the modeling platform to assess their approach to operations.

STATETECH: What are the biggest challenges you face, and are you addressing them?

Pfeil: One major challenge is notoriety, just people knowing about it and getting the word out. Another is consensus-building, because people generally don’t have a good feeling about government, and so we need to be building trust with folks.

In practical terms, there’s building consensus from a legislative perspective: getting the right support and buy-in from not just the secretary and the governor but from the legislative branches as well. Then, there are the localities; they are doing some really good stuff, and we want to enable them to replicate that across the state, helping then to mature in the proper ways.

Ken Pfeil
With data, you can do proactive outreach so that families have access to those services before they need them, rather than after the fact.”

Ken Pfeil Chief Data Officer, Office of Data Governance and Analytics

STATETECH: How do you build that broad consensus?

Pfeil: First, you’ve got to have a plan to move forward, a roadmap that includes everyone, with consistent baselines across all your stakeholders. That means you’re not going to shoot for the moon on one thing and then have everybody else fall way below that, with no plan to get there.

Trust is another thing, and that comes from getting out there and speaking with folks, having regular face-to-face meetings and building those relationships. I’ve been doing the road tour, getting out to as many localities as possible. I was in Norfolk recently. I’ve got Arlington, Virginia Beach, Bedford, Stafford and Montgomery County all on the calendar right now. I’d really like to get out there and find out what their pain points are and how we help solve that from a commonwealth perspective.

I’ll say this: It helps that everybody wants to do the right thing. Everybody wants to do the best thing. No one goes into public service to do a halfway job. We all want to make sure that we’ve left things in a better place and that we’ve enhanced the lives of Virginians in some way.

EXPLORE: How cloud-based tools ease the burden of data collection and analysis for investigators.

STATETECH: Let’s talk about how data can do that. Where do you see opportunity for data to enhance the government mission?

Pfeil: From the perspective of efficiency, everybody likes to see a direct return in terms of dollars saved. With data, you are making the right decisions, not making decisions based on personal feeling or shooting from the hip or because you don’t know any better. That means you’re going to be in a much better place financially.

Of course, there are other benefits. Take our predictive analytics model, for example, looking at something like cognitive decline. How do you determine where that bell curve is when certain individuals are going to need certain services? With data, you can do proactive outreach so that families have access to those services before they need them, rather than after the fact.

There are public safety uses as well. The police, for example, could look at analytical data from weather events and traffic to help drivers and emergency vehicles avoid a flash flood point, leading to decreased response times. In some cases, that could save someone’s life. In all these cases, and others, data can help government be more effective and more predictive in how it delivers services.

LEARN ABOUT: Process mining, and how it can help transform governments.

STATETECH: What are your future plans for your office?

Pfeil: We are only an agency right now, by law, through fiscal year 2024. So, we are working hard on that, and hopefully we’ll get to speak with the legislature soon about extending that or codifying us as a permanent agency.

That’s ultimately what we would like to see, and that means we need to keep putting up these wins like we’ve been doing, demonstrating the effectiveness of data.

If we can get codified past 2024, with funding and all of that, then what I see in the future for this office is much like what the Virginia IT Agency does as a technology services provider for the commonwealth. I can see us being that for data, a one-stop shop.

It would save people from having to hunt for what they need, and it would eliminate duplication of cost, as opposed to having the same systems being installed in three different places at once to perform essentially the same function. In that role, we could eliminate a lot of inefficiencies, both in identifying data and data transfer and in solving business problems.

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