A Chief Data Officer explains the biggest hurdles and how to get past them

A few years ago, only big tech companies had positions like Chief Data Officer or Chief Innovation Officer. Now cities are finding value in the job — as they should.

But the job requirements may not be exactly what you expect. Consider Ali Farahani, who was Los Angeles County’s first Chief Data Officer. In an interview with for the SixThirty Group’s Explore Open Data Research project, he revealed that half of his job wasn’t about technology — it was about people. It was about trying to get people to understand what’s possible, why they should care, and how they should work together to put the data to the best possible use.

It’s an eye-opening interview that shed a lot of light of what you should be looking for in your first Chief Data Officer or how you can build a department to give that person the best chance of success. — Jesse Berst

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“Explore Open Data” is a research project by the SixThirty Group, designed to promote open data standards and help publishers and users accomplish more with open data. A major part of our research is an interview series featuring experts in open data. Through their visions, we intend to elucidate the roadmap for the future of open data.

This week, we interviewed Dr. Ali Farahani, currently the Director of the Information Systems Advisory Board (ISAB), who was also the first Chief Data Officer in Los Angeles County. In the “Building a Smarter Los Angeles” conference that we hosted in March 2016, Dr. Farahani described “open data standards” as the key to the future of open data. This interview will be divided into two sections and published separately: 1) Inside the Life of a Chief Data Officer; 2) Open Data Standards Beyond Formats.

Dr. Ali Farahani has worked in the County of Los Angeles for almost 28 years. He began his career with the county in 1988 and worked his way up — becoming the Chief Information Officer in the Los Angeles County Probation Department in 1999, the Director of Integration Services at ISAB in 2006, the first Chief Data Officer for the County of Los Angeles in 2012, and all that led to his current position as the Director of the Information Systems Advisory Board (ISAB) this February. Having worked with data and information throughout his career, he is an expert and a strong advocate for the Open Data movement.

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Question: What was the regular work routine as a Chief Data Officer in LA County?

Dr. Farahani: As the first Chief Data Officer, I had to create the routine. First, for any new program, you have to have a documented charter, to make sure that people understand what it is. Second, you also need a governance group to support the charter. So the first thing I did was to establish an information management governing committee.

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