Government Innovator Spotlight Q&A: Ed Kelly, CDO, State of Texas

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Neboneid Hamoo 11 January 2022
Government Innovator Spotlight Q&A:  Ed Kelly, CDO, State of Texas

Ahead of his session at PSN's Government Data Insights virtual event on January 26th, we sat down with the State of Texas Chief Data Officer, Ed Kelly, for an exclusive interview to find out more about his career, his initiatives at the state-level, advice for those following in his footsteps, and much more.


Please tell us a bit about what you do, how you got there, and what you love about your work?

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As CDO for the State of Texas my role is multi-faceted. I have the great opportunity to work with almost every state agency and institution of higher education helping them to develop their data management programs. The office of the Chief Data Office (OCDO) serves as the chief evangelist for data best practices, as well as data broker, facilitator, trainer, and collaborator.

I have worked in Texas state government for 14 years as a CIO, CAO and now a CDO for 6 years. When the opportunity came up to develop and manage a statewide program, I was very interested. Guess you could say I was in the right place at the right time!

I love the diversity of my job, getting the chance to help people everyday and make a difference across a wide variety of agency goals and missions.


As a leader who has gone back and forth between the private and public sectors throughout your career, what kept drawing you back to public service? How has that evolved since the beginning of your career?

Public service is unlike the private sector. In my agency (Department of Information Resources) it feels more like a family, you get a chance to develop some long-term friendships with people who have your back. I generally like the fact that we make a difference in our customer and citizen’s lives.

I have had the chance to work for several different agencies (law enforcement, health, agriculture, technology), and leadership structures (appointed board of directors, elected officials). The evolution throughout my career has been all about learning how to be successful within different environments and organization structures.


What made you gravitate towards Human Resources within the public sector? What continues to drive your passion for this and how does that manifest itself?

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I have been in information technology for many years, and I have been on the business side of the desk too. I believe that data management helps bridge IT and business. It provides a forum, through primarily people and processes, to improve how we collect data, analyze data, and use data to make better decisions.

Seeing the response from our customers, seeing how our work makes a difference is what drives my passion. Also, working with my rockstar team drives my passion, seeing how much fun and success we all accomplish.


How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your outlook and approach to your work? What key lessons have you learned that you have applied?

The COVID-19 event was, and still is, unforgettable. We were given the privilege of working alongside our health customers throughout the event. The work they did, and are still doing, for the State of Texas is commendable. COVID-19 also brought into light the criticality of accurate and timely data for business decision making purposes. As we worked through it the importance of collaboration was the biggest lesson learned. It reinforced what we have been doing all along within the Texas Data Management Program, that partnership, teamwork and collaboration can win the day despite the odds and challenge.

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Who has been a strong role model for you in your career? Can you explain why, and how, they inspired you or helped you succeed?

In state government it would be my ex-manager, the CIO of the Department of Public Safety. She took a chance on me (no government experience) and she taught me how to work in the public sector. Learning from her every day for 2 years, dealing with challenging and difficult situations provided me with the strong foundation to which I built my public sector career. She was great leader, kind always, and strong when she needed to be.


What advice would you give to the younger generation of data professionals in this field and more broadly within public service? What is one piece of advice you wish someone had shared with you when you were just beginning your career?

I have said this many times, working in the public sector you need to be patient and persistent. Patience because things take time to get done. There are many rules and compliance processes that one must follow. Persistent because if you don’t drive your program no one else will. You need be willing to make changes quickly and pivot if necessary.

The advice I would give someone now is to be kind to yourself, give yourself time to learn, observe, listen, and then once you have collected your thoughts go into action. Overall, don’t worry too much, life is a marathon not a sprint. What seemed important and troublesome last month is a distant memory this month.

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How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted your outlook and approach to your work? What key lessons have you learned that you have applied?

Want to hear Ed's exclusive talk on
How Texas is Positioning Itself for the Future?
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Neboneid Hamoo Data Management & Analytics / Corporate & Shared Services Partnership Director, Public Sector Network