A technology plan is a multiyear strategic planning document conceived to assess gaps and goals that lays down a framework for data infrastructure, technology changes, upgrades, software, and staffing. It presses the question, "Where will we be in 5 years and how do we get there?"
We often work with larger local health departments on technology plans. It's a welcome invitation to align the software product's roadmap (the prioritized list and timing of future enhancements) with the health department's goals. For example, when the health department aspires to deploy a new and inventive mobile app to its inspectors, operators, or residents, then the underlying plans must shift to support that particular initiative.
While it's routine to set timelines and budgets for updated tablet computers, servers, and storage, the following question can be a head-scratcher: "Once a technology plan is deployed, how many people will I need to support it?"
In this column I use the phrase "data operations" to refer to the nonpolicy, nonhealth, and noninspection activities that are essential to local health departments of a certain size. Examples of data operations include help desk, computer training, information technology (IT) department and vendor coordination, configuration changes, security, and report writing.
I also qualify health departments of a certain size because most health department workforces are small, where everybody does a bit of everything. This column applies to the largest health departments, those that serve a population of [greater than or equal to] 250,000 and have a workforce of [greater than or equal to] 100 employees. At this scale, optimizing data operations (computer systems and support) has an amplifying effect. What follows is a model for ideal data operations staffing of a local health department.
Functions of Local Health Department Data Operations
This model proposes several high-level functions (Figure 1). Obviously, a single staff member might fill multiple roles, as well as have other unrelated duties. The model is really a portfolio of contributors, with individuals flexing their involvement with the current needs of the health department. These functions include:
* Power user/lead: Power users are typically embedded, contributing to day-to-day transactions. Yet, due to their special skills and leadership, they often emerge as first-line resources to their colleagues.
* Help desk: The help...