While the first few months of 2020 were notable to be sure, they were perhaps especially daunting for the new permanent state chief information officers who stepped up to their posts amid the turmoil of the novel coronavirus. But the business of government IT pressed on, and while these CIOs were tasked with challenges like quickly transitioning to telework, shoring up cybersecurity and tracking COVID-19 data, the nuts and bolts of gov tech remained: modernizing legacy systems, expanding broadband and coordinating with state leadership on long-term priorities.
Our editorial staff got to know this new class of state CIOs, checking in as they settled into their positions at an unprecedented moment in history.
Tracy Barnes, Indiana
Transparency is a cornerstone of the leadership style Tracy Barnes brings to his position as the head of Indianaâs Office of Technology (IOT). He prefers to engage fully with staff at all levels of the organization, sharing what he knows and relying upon their expertise to make the best possible decisions. But he started the job at the end of March, the same month the state saw its first case of COVID-19. That reality has made the kind of communication he seeks a little harder.
âI want to figure out how I make sure I get that message out there in a comprehensive manner to the full footprint of the agency so everyone understands the value that theyâre bringing, especially in this time where tensions are high, pressure is high and expectations are high,â he said. âThe ability to walk up and down the aisleways and just say âhiâ or âgood jobâ or âattaboyâ are limited and probably wonât be available at any true capacity for a while.â
Barnes brings a multi-faceted background to the CIO job, having worked extensively in the ERP area in private industry and higher education both in the United States and abroad. He made the move to government a few years ago as IT director for the state auditorâs office, then as chief of staff for the lieutenant governor. As state CIO, Barnes acknowledges the strong foundation built through the expertise of his predecessors and looks forward to bringing his enterprise-level skills to bear in order to move all agencies forward using technology.
A proponent of as-a-service technologies, Barnes envisions that establishing a sustainable, supportable multi-cloud offering will be a critical part of meeting the stateâs needs. He wants to solidify IOTâs role in guiding agencies toward secure solutions that fit within the broader operational IT framework, especially in areas like data integration. Noting that technology investments tend to outlive the agency leadership that was in place at the time of the purchase, he takes a longer-term view of IOTâs responsibility.
âWe need to make sure that folks still at the state can continue supporting them and managing them and maintaining them for potential turnover and for succession planning down the road,â he said.
â Noelle Knell
Annette Dunn, Iowa
Annette Dunn is no stranger to the inner workings of government. She was named by Gov. Kim Reynolds to the CIO role in July of 2019, following a four-year stint as IT division director and CIO of the state Department of Transportation. And her DOT post came on the heels of nearly a decade in other roles with the state â notably among those as a key player in a statewide project to equip snowplows with GPS and advanced vehicle location technology that has since been used in a number of other states.
Taking on the state CIO job comes with similar challenges as roles sheâs previously held, Dunn said, just on a bigger scale. And rising costs and flat or declining budgets place even more pressure on IT resources.
âWe must provide the innovation and access to Iowans that they expect and need,â she said. âThis puts a larger burden on the use of data and technology to help us make more strategic decisions and think outside of the box to be able to deliver services in more convenient and customer-friendly ways.â
Getting a handle on the stateâs data is a major priority for Dunn. Sheâs eyeing a robust data warehouse that can be relied upon as a resource to users across the state in order to inform the best possible business decisions. And thereâs work to be done to get there: getting a clear picture of the data held by various state systems; deduplication and standardization; and establishing access controls.Â Â
âThe creation of a strong, reliable data warehouse that is easily utilized will make us a stronger state and help us make better business decisions now and well into the future,â she added.
Her approach to leading the broader IT organization is to look both outward and inward. She sees vendor partners as playing a critical role in helping agencies meet their technology needs, as they can move more quickly and efficiently, often at a lower cost. But pivoting away from internal development is a big cultural shift, which explains why internal communication is another huge area of focus.
âFrom a leadership standpoint, it comes down to changing the culture and helping people see the big picture,â she explained. âI spend a lot of time convincing employees that change is just a different way of doing things, and at the end of the day there will always be work for them to do that is important and necessary.â
â Noelle Knell
Jeff Wann, Missouri
Jeff Wann was on the job two weeks when the coronavirus upended life in Missouri, and across the country, all but shutting down the state.
âAnd everything changed,â Wann remarked on the last day of April, as the state counted more than 7,500 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and 329 fatalities related to the disease. Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons declared a state of emergency on March 13.
Earlier this year, Wann was named Missouriâs new CIO, bringing a long career spanning the public, private and nonprofit sectors. He was tapped, in part, for his leadership in the job of modernizing Missouriâs Office of Administrative IT Services.
An overarching goal was âto help modernize the IT systems, and to help transform processes and procedures, and to help further mature the IT organization,â said Wann.
âThe COVID-19 situation has helped us to accelerate that,â he said. âItâs a silver lining in a very dark cloud, because obviously, COVID-19 is a terrible thing for folks. But on the other hand, itâs been a catalyst to help us to be able to help our citizens. And frankly, help other states.â
The crisis required quick action in a number of areas. Tools like chatbots, which can take months to develop, were being turned out in only weeks and days. The state teamed up with the Missouri Hospital Association to launch a new tool, developed by Google, to form a marketplace that matches state suppliers of personal protective equipment with health-care workers. Telephone, GIS and other systems were upgraded and improved to meet the new challenges the crisis called for.
When Missouri does return to more normal operations, Wann plans to return to his punch list for modernizing IT.
âNow, itâs going to be tough,â he added. âBecause projected revenue in fiscal year â21 is not looking good for any state.â
âBut I expect to keep going,â Wann continued. âI expect that now that we are training our people in these new technologies, we can continue on doing those things with the budgets as they are.â
â Skip Descant
Brom Stibitz, Michigan
When he started as Michigan CIO on March 4, Brom Stibitz was prepared. A lifelong resident of the state, besides a few years overseas after college, Stibitz had been chief deputy director of the Michigan Department of Technology, Management and Budget for five years. Before that he had been director of executive operations for the state Department of Treasury, a senior policy adviser, and a legislative director at the state House of Representatives. He was was ready to hit the ground running.
Then the pandemic hit.
Like most state CIOs, Stibitz had to set aside what he thought heâd be doing this spring and instead manage organization-wide emergency measures, including telework on a scale that Michigan had never attempted before. He spent much of those first weeks overseeing preparations for nearly 28,000 state employees: doubling VPN firewall capacity, finding laptops and organizing staff training on various tools for working from home.
He defines his broader priorities for Michigan as efficient and effective government, IT accountability, customer experience, and (of course) cybersecurity. He said those werenât explicit directives from Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, but they appeared to be shared goals among state departments.
âThereâs been a lot of focus on, how do we make sure that services of the state are accessible to people, not just that itâs there and people can use it, but how do you make it so people can understand it and itâs truly accessible?â he said. âThe other area of focus has been efficiency â¦ How do we make sure that weâre consolidating around solutions instead of expanding the stateâs footprint?â
Asked what recent IT projects heâs most glad to have done, Stibitz mentioned a couple that werenât flashy, but critical: developing a single sign-on solution, now used by more than 200 applications, to simplify security; and transitioning state employees to Microsoft Office 365, which reduced their reliance on network storage, revealed several practical and budgetary efficiencies, and unwittingly prepared the state to work from home.
In April, Stibitz was fairly sanguine about the results of the stateâs telework operation, but under no illusions about the economic challenges to come.
âWeâre looking at precipitous declines in revenue over the next six, 12, 18 months,â he said. âSo thereâs going to be more pressure than ever on IT to (a) find efficiencies within what weâre doing, and (b) to find solutions that can help agencies or customers save money.â
â Andrew Westrope
John Salazar, New Mexico
When John Salazar became New Mexicoâs IT secretary on March 2, he knew heâd have to address issues such as dated infrastructure and broadband access.
What he didnât know was that his new role would soon revolve around responding to a pandemic that would infect more than 1 million Americans within two months. The workload has been gigantic.
âWeâre working weekends. Weâre working nights. Itâs been a challenge for us,â Salazar said.
The first big hurdle was ensuring that roughly 20,000 government employees could work from home. Salazar thinks the mission was accomplished, but not without hiccups. The state filed an emergency order with a vendor for 1,000 laptops, but the machines came a month late, so Salazarâs team had to get creative in an IT structure where agencies manage their own networks and workstations.
âThe first couple of weeks were chaos,â Salazar recalled. âWe were all working in different directions.â
He spent a lot of time in April collaborating with the New Mexico Department of Health, which has two legacy systems that receive COVID-19 testing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal was to create a dashboard with relevant information for Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham, which required Salazarâs team to, among other steps, stand up a platform in the cloud and develop data interfaces between the legacy systems.
Having previously worked as a CIO in two different state agencies â Taxation and Revenue, and the Department of Workforce Solutions â Salazar was well prepared for his position as head of New Mexico IT. But no one could foresee the long-term impact of COVID-19. Salazar attempted to compare the situation to Y2K, but he pointed out that at least with Y2K, there was a âlong climbing processâ during which people knew what was potentially coming.
Now leaders like Salazar must react in ways that might forever change how states utilize technology. He sees plenty of opportunities to improve New Mexicoâs systems by incorporating more cloud solutions, automating more processes and putting in place more procedures for better cybersecurity.
As for government meetings, New Mexico is holding a tremendous amount of virtual sessions â a new trend that perhaps should be a norm.
âAll of our employees are doing this on a regular basis, and thatâs something that probably needs to continue in the future,â Salazar said.
â Jed Pressgrove
Tracy Doaks, North Carolina
Tracy Doaks is a self-proclaimed technologist at heart. âI love talking about it, translating that in business terms so that I can talk about it with different audiences, understanding the finance side of it,â she said.
That was essential in her last four years as deputy CIO in North Carolina, where she primarily focused on back-of-house operations like data centers, the state network, and cloud and identity management. Since she took the head post as CIO in March, Doaks has had to pivot to more outward-facing work, coordinating with the governorâs office and doing more public speaking. âNow my focus has expanded to all facets of the Department of Information Technology [DIT],â she explained, âso that includes cybersecurity, data analytics, rural broadband, 911, digital transformation.â
Doaks has spent 20 years in and out of government, in the North Carolina Department of Revenue, where she was CIO, as well as time in health care and with Accenture. That experience meant that when she became state CIO, just as COVID-19 was gaining ground in the U.S., she had a firm grasp on how government IT works and the role it would play in adapting to the pandemic. DIT quickly stood up a crisis response team that met twice daily, âso that we could understand obstacles and challenges around the state and knock them down quickly.â
Some of those challenges included putting together a coronavirus website in just a few days to help pull heavy Internet traffic away from Health and Human Services, as well as supporting similar issues at the Division of Employment Security.
And the pandemic of course heightened the need to expand broadband connectivity, particularly throughout the stateâs rural areas, which Doaks had to quickly get up to speed on. âAs the schoolchildren and college kids were sent home and employees were sent home,â she said, âthat made it even more critical and a top priority for us.â
â Lauren Harrison
Editor’s note: After the July/August issue of Government Technology went to press, Doaks stepped down as CIOÂ to helm a tech-related nonprofit in North Carolina.
Jerry Moore, Oklahoma
Jerry Moore took the reins as Oklahomaâs new CIO in February, at a time when the stateâs IT organization and direction was shifting.
Gov. Kevin Stitt, who appointed Moore, has made it known he is pursuing a new direction for Oklahoma IT, prioritizing digital transformation and modernization as two of the main efforts of his administration.
Part of this has involved a reorganization of the stateâs Office of Management and Enterprise Services: OMES is in the process of conducting an audit meant to identify unnecessary expenditures, which was ongoing when Moore came on the scene.
Having spent a decade as the CIO for the Tulsa Technology Center â the educational IT hub affiliated with the Oklahoma Department of Career and Technology Education â Moore is no outsider to government work. Before becoming CIO, he also worked as the stateâs director of IT application services.
At the same time, it is his private-sector experience that has likely given Moore the skill set that is most appealing in light of the governorâs effort: Having held IT leadership roles for large companies like ConocoPhillips and SiteTraxx, Moore has consistently shown an ability to take on IT restructuring projects that hew to long-term strategic goals.
Stitt has said this is what he hopes Moore will bring to the job: an ability to deliver high-performance, cost-effective solutions as the state navigates its modernization efforts.
âJerryâs more than 20 years of experience in technology leadership in the public and private sectors will serve Oklahomans well as we continue our efforts in becoming a top ten state,â said OMES Director Stephen Harpe in a statement. âHe has a proven record in identifying and executing new technologies to solve business problems.â
â Lucas Ropek
Jeffrey Clines, South Dakota
A drive to help people, rather than increase margins and decrease bottom lines, is what brought Jeffrey Clines to public-sector work. He began his career in the private sector, then spent more than a decade in operations and enterprise applications for the American Heart Association. But even that nonprofit work didnât fully get at Clinesâ desire to impact real peopleâs lives. In 2018 he moved to government, as CIO for the Illinois Secretary of Stateâs office, before becoming head of the South Dakota Bureau of Information and Telecommunications this past April.
âI believe that in technology, you canât stay in one place,â Clines wrote in an email to Government Technology. âWe push forward, finding ways to leverage technology â especially emerging tech â to improve service, systems and processes.â Heâs committed to working with state agencies to target where they want to go and see how tech will help get them there.
âThere is no stable ground anymore,â he said. âThe days of being able to stand up a system and have it work for 20-plus years are no longer here.â
That forward-looking approach to state IT has so far served him well during his tenure, which of course began amid the COVID-19 pandemic as South Dakota moved to nearly all remote work. When Clines thinks about when the U.S. will âreturn to normal,â he hopes it doesnât. âIf we push to go back to where we were, we may lose some of the valuable lessons we have learned in this process â things like the ability of our teams to work independently and remotely, or how we have really pushed to look at ways to be creative in delivering services while maintaining social distancing.â
One area where Clines sees this having the most impact is on rural communities as people are given the option to work away from city centers and be just as productive. South Dakota is home to many scenic, far-flung areas that Clines hopes to reinvigorate via telework, which he notes will need investment in broadband and other critical infrastructure to thrive.
â Lauren Harrison
Bill Smith, Alaska
Bill Smith took up the role of Alaskaâs state CIO in late 2019, a turbulent time for the state IT department. He became the fifth person to hold the job since 2018, after a series of interim leaders.
Why the turnover? The state had launched an effort to centralize its technology offerings, and the process âdidnât go as well as everybody wanted,â Smith said. The job nonetheless appealed to him because, as he saw it, the fundamentals had begun to fall into place.
âThe state leadership is very supportive, from the governor to all the cabinet-level department leaders. Weâve also brought in external resources, where before the centralization effort was being done entirely in house,â he said. âI believe the conditions exist now for us to have long-term success with this effort.â
Those external resources included a third-party assessment of the overall IT ecosystem, which Smith is now leveraging as the basis for prioritization. He also is busy updating all the technology-position descriptions to align with a modernized IT environment, and heâs taking a fresh look at the service catalog.
âWe want to build out the organizational chart more fully, to nail down what the services are, how we will provide those and with what resources,â he said. This will include an overhaul of IT governance, with an eye toward creating a more collaborative relationship between the Office of Information Technology and state agencies.
âIâd also like to be able to be the broker,â he said. âIf the departments have an IT need, my team can figure out what services are available, so that the departments can focus on meeting their own business needs.â
â Adam Stone
J.R. Sloan, Arizona
J.R. Sloan joined Arizona state government in 2013 as manager of the digital government program. He moved to the deputy CIO position, and then became interim CIO in July 2019. When he officially assumed the CIO role in March 2020, he set cybersecurity as a top goal.
âIn Arizona we have a federated model, where agencies have a large degree of autonomy and independence,â he said. To counter the cyber-risk inherent in that model, Sloan has been implementing an enterprise approach to security, standardizing agencies on a set of 16 different security controls.
While legislative funding has helped drive the change, âwe really needed to get the agencies involved in the process,â he said. âWe set up a committee with security officers from each of the agencies, all bringing front-line knowledge that we can use that to guide the process.â
Looking forward, he said the IT department will try to expand that cooperative mentality across a broader range of IT needs. âWe can bring enterprise services to the agencies and save them having to execute on those tasks themselves, so that they can redirect those resources to actually work on the mission of the agency.â
To that end, the state already was engaged in a move to Googleâs G Suite for mail and calendar, with 40,000 employees across 80 different agencies onboarded in two years, Sloan said. Now he is looking to expand that implementation to include things like document editors and chat features.
âAll this stuff is included in the suite that weâve already paid for,â he said. Beyond the financial pitch, heâs been wooing agencies on the basis of functionality. âWithin the suite, everything is connected and it all works well together. When you can have the same document up with someone else and you can collaborate in real time â thatâs when we really catch peopleâs attention.â
â Adam Stone
DeAngela Burns-Wallace, Kansas
DeAngela Burns-Wallace was already heading up the cabinet-level Department of Administration in Kansas when the governor tapped her to take on an added role as leader of the independent Office of Information Technology Services (OITS).
In her new position, which sheâs held since August 2019, Burns-Wallace has staked out a number of key goals. Sheâs looking to modernize legacy systems and putting a heavy emphasis on security. âOur security posture is solid, but I want us to not just be âin the moment,ââ she said. âI want us to be in a more strategic stance, strengthening our overall security posture not just as individual agencies but in a coordinated way across state government.â
Data governance also is high on her agenda. âWe have some data sharing that has come together out of necessity, but now we need to take a step back and put a real strategy and structure around that,â she said. âWe need to put in place sustainable guidelines and policies that arenât susceptible to changing leadership or changing political winds.â
Finally, Burns-Wallace said she is looking to elevate the perception of IT as a dependable partner across all levels of state government. âWe have to have reliable, consistent high-quality IT services across all of our agencies. But over the years, that consistency and level of quality have been uneven,â she said. âNon-cabinet agencies for instance have not always gotten the same level of service, and yet their work is incredibly important. They have a significant impact for our state.â
Going forward, Burns-Wallace said OITS needs to establish a more level playing field, in order to change perceptions at the agency level. âThere needs to be a reliably high level of service across all those entities,â she said. âThatâs how we rebuild trust and confidence in what IT is delivering.â
â Adam Stone
Ruth Day, Kentucky
Ruth Day took up the helm at Kentuckyâs Commonwealth Office of Technology (COT) in December 2019 amid a flurry of bad news.
Two months earlier, a state auditor faulted COTâs inventory practice, saying the agency couldnât account for some $715,000 worth of equipment. Then in November, a contract worker with access to COTâs storage rooms was indicted for allegedly stealing more than $1 million in laptops from the agency.
Despite the potentially fragile environment, Day rose to the challenge of helping state agencies respond to the COVID-19 outbreak just a few months after taking on her new role. In mid-March she issued a memo to guide officials in their use of online meeting platforms. When vulnerabilities appeared in the popular Zoom platform, she quickly followed up with further guidance.
Meanwhile, Day continues to lead COT in its efforts to address a number of key issues.Â Supported by COT, state offices have begun to connect to KentuckyWired, a state-run project constructing high-speed fiber-optic infrastructure to every Kentucky county. Looking ahead, COT will be supporting the National Guard in mounting Cyber Protection Teams to secure the upcoming primary and general elections.
Prior to her appointment, Day served as the vice president for administrative services at Landstar System Inc., a transportation services company specializing in logistics. In a press conference at the time of her appointment, Day expressed enthusiasm for the work ahead. âIâm honored to join the [Gov. Andy] Beshear-[Lt. Gov. Jacqueline] Coleman administration and I think you can tell that the [governor] has laid out a very clear and concise mission for me …,â she said. âIâm very excited and ready to go to work for Kentucky.âÂ
â Adam StoneÂ