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House tech bill would tear down walls between state agencies

Easier data sharing, where it makes sense.

A bill moving through the House would shutter the Division of State Technology and set up the Florida Digital Service in its place.

HB 1391, sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jamie Grant, would do more than rebrand the state’s tech office. The bill tasks FDS with maintaining state data, setting up testing environments to demo state software before it’s rolled out and facilitating data sharing between government agencies.

The information exchange system, or “ecosystem of data interoperability,” created by FDS would allow the service to tackle digital driver’s licenses or provide supervisors of elections tools to check voter eligibility in real time.

Proponents say those projects could provide the groundwork — on a technical level — to better address problems such as the opioid crisis or human trafficking, where the front lines span several state departments.

“One of the key facets of the legislation is being able to do data sharing. In order to actually solve big social problems the state is facing today, it’s absolutely paramount. One of the most important and interesting aspects of this bill is setting up enterprise architecture. Data sharing starts from that,” said Kaleo Partners’ Heath Beach, who previously worked as Florida’s Deputy Chief Information Officer.

“The legislation puts a focus on technology. Moving away from being a cost of business to an investment in business. Nobody in the past really looked at it that way, but it’s a necessary part of doing business. It’s exciting to me to see it coming to fruition.”

The bill would also have FDS craft guidelines for state agency software purchases and weigh in — or intervene, if necessary — during the software procurement process.

During a Tuesday hearing in the House Government Operations and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee, Grant explained the procurement rules bluntly.

“We would quit buying software like dummies, where we consider software as done when software is never done.”

Jon Menendez of Kaleo Partners expanded on the provision, “HB 1391 demonstrates the importance of facilitating the ability for agencies to continue modernizing applications in order to deliver essential services while acknowledging the need for continued prioritization of enterprise innovation that propel Florida forward.”

The proposal is a sequel of sorts to the 2019 bill (HB 5301) that moved the formerly independent Agency for State Technology under the Department of Management Services and mandated state agencies adopt a “cloud-first” policy for software purchases.

Last year’s bill was a gubernatorial priority and was well received by DMS Secretary Jonathan Satter, who praised Gov. Ron DeSantis as “dedicated to delivering a more efficient, cost-effective government focused on innovative solutions and superior customer service.”

Likewise, the 2020 proposal has broad support in the executive branch.

David Clark, DeSantis’ Deputy Chief of Staff, said tearing down some of the digital walls between state agencies is a priority for the administration. It’s a process that’s has already been teed up by the cloud rule, which went into effect in mid-January. When it was pitched, lawmakers described it as a way to get all state agencies working with the same structure so data could be easily shared when needed.

Clark cautioned, however, that the goal isn’t to create a “data lake” with all government information, merely connections that make sense.

He used an analogy of a young teenage boy who gets pulled from his home, has a run in with school resource officer the next day and gets expelled, goes home to get a gun, then gets pulled over by a Sheriff’s deputy. In each contact, the authority figure is oblivious to what has transpired to that point.

Glenn Kirkland of Kaleo Partners says the executive branch is showing the kind of leadership necessary for advances in state technology to be transformative.

“In our experience, in Florida and beyond, real transformative change in technology is facilitated by executive leadership, especially when you are already starting from behind in many aspects,” he said. “The Governor has to both understand and care about the importance of the role technology plays in driving efficiency and delivering outcomes.

“That is precisely what we are seeing from Gov. DeSantis and the Legislature. The focus has shifted from not doing technology for the sake of technology, but rather to solve real problems for real people.”

Grant’s bill received a 9-2 vote in its Tuesday hearing and it now moves to the House State Affairs Committee, its final stop before the House floor.

Republican Sen. Travis Hutson is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate. His bill (SB 1870) passed the Senate Innovation, Industry, and Technology Committee on Monday with a 6-4 vote and now heads to the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee.

Written By

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

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