Continuing the Journey with Newer Technology
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Continuing the Journey with Newer Technology

By Jim Smith, CIO, State of Maine

Jim Smith, CIO, State of Maine

Like the Federal Government, the State of Maine has embraced a cloud first policy. That does not mean that every application will be cloud based immediately; but it does mean that each IT decision we make will be viewed through that filter of ‘cloud first’. The question we ask—is there an overriding reason why something should be on-prem? If not, we should be using a cloud provider. To date, all of our recent, ERP-level processes have gone to the cloud—HR, Finance, large Agency processes.

We believe that the cloud, that is, third party hosting solutions, will provide better efficiency, security, and data recovery options going forward. But, we also believe that the ‘cloud’ provider industry has to mature; today’s offerings are still a bewildering collection of services—there is confusion on what is offered, what each vendor will provide, etc.

"But perhaps the most important CIO duty is to build the right workforce"

For states of our size, the movement will continue to be off-prem, but the journey has just started.

What are your thoughts on e-governments?

We think of e-government as two things: migrating services online, and changing the process workflow to citizen self-service mode.

Over the last decade, Maine has taken both steps across many different services. From unemployment insurance, through health and human services benefits, campground reservations, gaming licenses, to drivers’ license renewals, Maine has aggressively pursued e-government.

Maine works with a third party provider for many of our online, citizen-facing services. We are working with a Maine University to study and evaluate our online offerings—service to citizens, efficiency, and reduced cost. At the same time, we are working to make sure our traditional online services can be accessed through mobile devices. E-government is evolving rapidly.

Additionally, with regard to technology trends, the State of Maine is strategizing on how to continue the journey into newer technologies. Like most large organizations, we have to determine how to efficiently break from the ‘technology chains’ of the past. Some of our current applications and processes are 30 and 40 years old. They work, but not in the contemporary sense—ability to share information, platforms, and workflow. We need to evolve, but given the constraints of time and money, we have to choose where and how to evolve.

And beyond the well-known technology advancements of tablets and mobile and cloud, there are behind the scenes advances that are equally important. Things like visualization and Software Define Networks (SDN) are changing both the organization capabilities and the workforce skills needed. We recently completed a year-long network project to replace much of our 1990’s infrastructure with new technology to help with redundancy and performance.

Technology devices will continue to evolve quickly— we are already in a world where our citizens expect services to be online. But, as we concentrate on individual technology advances, we will do so within the above framework, to enable a consistent move forward.

Government has lots of information but can’t use it effectively to drive business. Data is both difficult to access and needed by more applications. How do you examine the effective and proactive use of data—how to consolidate, integrate and use it to drive business?

The Legislature, the agencies, and the Governor’s office are all very interested in using data to more effectively understand citizen needs and government spend. There are multiple challenges, of course—how do you unlock data in multiple, legacy systems that were never intended to share information; how do you circumvent individual agency rules that constrain sharing data; and how can you be sure that shared data is protected.

In Maine, to overcome the inertia of legacy systems and rules, we have created a joint technology / agency committee to promote ways to share data. In addition, we have created a data warehouse steering committee to help define and share data. We have had some success in the early part of this journey, with agencies able to share data under certain circumstances to check citizen’s services, reduce fraud, and make better decisions.

Over the years, we have witnessed a massive change pertaining to the role of CIOs depending on the organization, the industry, the business strategies, the prevailing market conditions and the financial climate in terms of business value. How would you describe your own role as CIO has changed in the past couple of years?

In the government sector, the role of the CIO is becoming more akin to an agency or business leader. The technology decisions made today will impact the organizations for years and years to come, so it is more important than ever to get these decisions right, to understand the risk, and to put the organization in place for successful performance and tracking. The software failures in both government and private industry over the past several years have been well documented. A major government software project today can be multiple years and multiple millions of dollars; it is imperative that technology and business leaders are at the table together through the process.

With your rich experience of managing IT organization and steering technology for your enterprise, can you please share some of the unique lessons learned and your advice for fellow CIOs.

When I started as an application developer in 1980, we did not have terminals at our desk. We had to schedule time to use the group terminals and had to submit our test programs to be compiled overnight. And, of course, there were no PCs. And there was no internet to deliver ransomware.

Fast forward to 2016, technology is not only on everyone’s desk, it is in everyone’s hand, car, and home. Technology is everywhere, and technology expectations are high.

It is as important as ever for CIOs to have a strong vision (where is the organization going), a plan (how will we get there) and governance (staying on the path). At the state level, our world is changing from in-house development and in-house data centers to third party development and cloud hosting. The nature of the job is changing, as is what we deliver. Our resources today have to be experts in architecture, integration, vendor management, and risk management.

In addition to having a vision and a plan, CIOs need to be very strong in project management -- projects move an organization forward, but they also bring risk and expense. It is imperative to get the discipline of project management right, and to instill it in the culture.

But perhaps the most important CIO duty is to build the right workforce. This means understanding demographics (from baby boomer retirements to millennial work habits) and building a pathway for vetting new employees, encouraging and training existing employees, and succession plans for transitions. Here in Maine, we have built programs for interns, for mentors, for returning veterans, and for women in technology. The organization of the future will need multiple levers to pull to build and retain the right resources. A CIO must get this right to build an effective, evolving organization.

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