Capitol Weekly Interview

What do you do as the state’s CIO?
The role of the state Chief Information Officer [CIO] here was established by Senate Bill 90, that was done last year. I think it was August. But the funding was made effective in January of this year. The role of this office is first of all to be the policy for the governor on any technology issues. Just to give you an example, the responsibility for all the broadband activities in the state is now being shared between my office and some remaining functions being down by BTH [Business, Transportation and Housing Agency], ensuring that we have broadband connectivity for homes and businesses across the state, as well as ensuring that we have.

Second, we have been working with the Governor’s office on education data, working with Superintendant O’Connell’s office and working with the Governor’s office of Education Policy around what data we should be collecting, how we should be presenting it, how we share information. That’s just a couple of examples of what we mean when we talk about policy.

The second role that I have is to coordinate and set direction for all of the information technology organizations in the state. We have approximately 130 CIOs, all of whom have their own organizations, some of them quite small, but some of them good sized. We believe we have somewhere around 10,000 IT [information technology] state employees.

The third thing we do is, across all of those organizations, look at some areas that are extremely important for IT. For instance, technology and enterprise architecture and the kinds of technology we use, that’s one. The second is way we manage projects. As you know, there is considerable press every time there is an IT project issue or a something that didn’t go well, isn’t on time, isn’t on budget.

The third is human capital. About 50 percent of our state employees in IT are going to be eligible for retirement in the next five years. We have to find ways to get qualified people to come to the state to replace those folks.

On top of that, we approve all information technology projects, from the standpoint of business value, the way the projects are constructed. So we actually approve those projects prior to them going to Finance. Finance actually makes the determination on, are there monies available.

Is California late in the game in having a CIO? You worked in Michigan before?
Yes. California, from a history standpoint, they had a couple of CIOs prior to 2000, then went through a period of about five years where Clark Kelso was the acting CIO, but without an organization. There were some issues that the Legislature had with the prior Dept. of Information Technology, which sunsetted.

It’s kind of embarrassing to be in the home of Silicon Valley…
That was really Governor Schwarzenegger’s feeling. He very much, in talking particularly with CEOs in the private sector, they had that conversation. Most other states, probably 45 out of 50, have CIOs. The leading states, ranked in a survey called The Digital States Survey, not only did they have state CIOs, but they were at the Cabinet level, who reported directly to the governor. That was really the reason Governor Schwarzenegger felt very strongly that, just exactly to your point, that California should have a state CIO and that CIO needed to have a place in the organization where we could deal with both policy issues and operational issues.
What are the big technology hurdles facing the state? If we have a bunch of aging IT professionals, that suggest to me that we also have of aging IT infrastructure.

That’s exactly right. Interestingly enough, our technology hurdles aren’t around bringing in the new wiz-bang technology. They’re really around exactly what you’re saying. First of all, we have a large number of very old systems. Are we unusual? Probably not. I think most states had the situation. What happened in California is because there wasn’t a state CIO for a period, there were some renovations of systems, but certainly not a statewide look at what needed to be done. So we are sitting with a disproportionate number of large, very old systems.

What’s the oldest thing you’ve found still operating?
One of them would definitely be the payroll system that the State Controller’s office runs. It’s got bits of everything. It’s COBAL-based. But some parts of it are in a language that even I don’t remember, and I’ve been doing this for a very, very long time. The other thing that happens in IT is that many of these older systems sprung up and did a single function. We have small systems spread over many departments. Some of those systems do the same thing, only in different ways. What we’ve never really been able to do is take a statewide view and say that every individual department shouldn’t be creating them. We should be creating them once for the state.
That’s the project the State Controller’s office has for payroll. There’s a combined effort that the Controller’s office, Dept. of Finance, Treasurer’s office, DGS [Dept. of General Services], a number of organizations around a common budgeting and accounting project called FI$CAL. And then we’re starting to see microcosms—they’re not small, because nothing in California is small—but for instance, EDD, the Employment Development group, is working with Health and Human Services on using a common platform for call centers.
What we’re encouraging is more commonality of the technologies we use, then using those technologies in more places. It reduces our cost, it helps us train our people better for those particular technologies, and it gives us a much greater ability to have a more stable technology platform. Then you build things like Fish & Game licenses or tax systems, all the unique things each department needs, on top of that. And that’s not to say we don’t introduce new technology. But in government, we introduce it very carefully. What I like to say is, we don’t necessarily go after bleeding edge technology. We like to be fast followers. We like to see that someone else has looked at the technology, so it’s something we’re comfortable with.

What are we moving away from and moving towards?
We’re going to be moving away from some of our older mainframe technologies, running on COBOL. We’re moving definitely towards greater use of open source, to either a dot-net of Java environment for development. We’re moving towards many more services as self-service. Not only from the standpoint of content, which is what states have done in the past, but much more toward everyone expanding the kinds of services that are available [online] from the Dept. of Motor Vehicles or the Franchise Tax Board. As the state broadband expands, and as everyone becomes more computer-literate, they’re going to want to do more services online. They’re not going to want to have to drive to an office or talk to someone on the phone. A side benefit of that is it’s much environmentally-friendly and budget-friendly to the state.

Has there been a particularly success project you can point to?
We’ve have a number of projects that have been successful. The child support project is the biggest project the state has ever done. We’re just about to do our final launch in Los Angeles County. Each of the counties has an office that takes in the child support payments. And children move or parents are in a different part of the state, without a single statewide system, you can’t really track that and get the dollars to the children that need it. The state had a very distributed system. This is a project tha
t has been going on for at least six years to use a single system, a single database. It also benefits the parents. In many cases, the parents were making their payments but it might not get to the children, and they were getting told they hadn’t made their payments.

How closely have you worked with the Secretary of State’s office?
I think we’ve been working with members of Debra Bowen’s office. But most of the things that are related to elections are federally funded. We always want to make sure we’re consistent, but most of those things are being done by her office. She’s always been a very strong technology champion in the state. She’s actually received a couple of national awards for her efforts. I think they’ve done quite a bit under her leadership.

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