Ian J. Kalin, the first chief data officer (CDO) at the Commerce Department, is figuring out how to tie data products and science to a core mission of his agency: enhancing business and commerce.
The US has been collecting and publishing nautical data since the 19th century, providing navigators with better maps of the oceans that they sailed and then steamed across. Today, government agencies publish data about labor, energy, health, transit, telecommunications, criminal justice, and just about everything else than can be measured, managed, performed, or regulated by state entities.
The 12 bureaus that make up the US Department of Commerce are among the most important collectors and publishers of data in the nation, and thus on the planet. While the US Census Bureau has been an international leader in publishing its data online for use and reuse across multiple platforms, the other 11 are still figuring out how to approach making data into a national strategic asset.
In Washington, DC, Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker hired Ian J. Kalin in March 2015 to be the agency’s first CDO, tasking him with improving the quantity and quality of data available to the public he serves. Our interview with Kalin, a former Presidential Innovation Fellow, director of open data at software vendor Socrata, energy entrepreneur, and US Navy veteran, follows, lightly edited for length and clarity.
If someone asks you to explain what a CDO is and does, what do you say?
Ian J. Kalin: My job is to help create jobs with information. That’s what I do. Information helps people. Data is one way to talk about it. There’s a lot of great data from the government that can help people create jobs and services. My job is to insure that there is a great quantity and quality of that information so that they can create those fantastic products.