Icon: Data Governance

Do It BEFORE You Need It: Develop a Written State Data System Changes Policy

Author: Bruce Bull, DaSy

person writing

Like most things in life, data systems don’t last forever. Data systems need to be enhanced to keep current with new data requirements, security standards, improved business logic, performance speed, and other functionality. When a state decides to modify a data system, the changes are likely to impact the work conducted at state, local/district, and/or provider levels. Therefore, it is important that state Part C and Part B 619 programs have a written data system change policy to document and manage how the changes are considered and implemented. A written data system change policy not only will establish the processes to manage minor to major changes, but just as importantly will identify when Part C/Part B 619 program staff (not just IT staff) need to be involved with those changes.

Let’s consider two possible scenarios and then review how a written data system change policy can support effective responses to them.

We’ve had increasing challenges for quite a few years in maintaining our 18-year-old special education data system. Special education and IT administrators recently set a date for the data system to be substantially updated to meet current IT standards. I’ve been asked to develop a list of possible enhancements to consider. Besides a few of my own ideas, which I thought about in my first few months of being in this position, I don’t know where to start. — Part B Data Manager
I sent out a survey to local users of our state data system asking for feedback on our data processes—including feedback on our collection systems, system reports, documentation, training, etc. They provided way more input than I expected! Lots of suggestions—some conflicting—to improve the data system. Some data system suggestions seem simple enough, but others would be significant (and expensive). Now I’m not sure how to evaluate and maybe move forward on this data system input. — Part C Data Manager

Sometimes data system change is driven from the top. Other times data system change recommendations come from local program staff, individual early intervention providers, teachers—day-to-day users who can be exceptionally well qualified to recommend improvements.  Regardless of the source of the change recommendation, considering the impact of each requested change is important before it happens. Small changes such as font size, spelling correction, or newer graphics won’t have much impact and won’t require much, if any, management oversight. But larger changes like new reports, redesigned dashboards, change to password requirements, updated business logic to flag potential entry errors, activate reminders, etc., will impact users. And some technical changes may be easy to make but have significant impact (e.g., new response options for race/ethnicity fields). For the data managers in the scenarios above, and others in positions to consider data system changes, having an established change policy provides a management structure for how changes are considered, who is involved with considering changes, timeliness of the change, communication to those impacted by the change, updated documentation to define and support the change, and so on.  In short, having a written data system change policy establishes the authority and processes states should have to manage all aspects of potential and actual data system changes.

If the Part B and the Part C data managers in the two scenarios above were part of a data governance  committee that had established a written data system change policy, they would be part of the team of content and technical staff thinking through the full impact of each suggested data system change. The data system changes would then be considered through a standard process with designated staff participating in the process and approved changes organized and managed internally as well as communicated to those impacted by the data system change. Reasonable timelines for designing, developing, testing, and deploying the changes also would be spelled out and managed. Even without a standing data governance committee, Part B 619 and Part C should have a written data system change policy.

Developing, maintaining, and enhancing state data systems require a significant investment of state resources. Establishing processes for managing data system changes is good business and good data governance. A written data system change policy supports those management processes through the establishment of effective and efficient procedures.

The Data System Changes section of the DaSy Data Governance Toolkit directly supports these efforts by suggesting policy considerations and templates for developing data system change polices. If you have any questions regarding data governance or the Data Governance and Management Toolkit, please contact DaSy.