In early July, Washington state made legislative changes regarding how the state’s billion dollar yearly IT offerings will work in the future -- Gov. Jay Inslee signed a law aimed at bringing more security and better practices to the state’s overall IT operations.

The law requires state agencies and universities to create IT security plans, which will be overseen by state CIO Michael Cockrill, and created some changes to IT budget structure. And Cockrill says the new legislation is in line with his vision for “personalized government” facilitated by technology. The legislation is also aligned with many of the things the state was already doing, he said.

For instance, Cockrill said, IT security is extremely important as the global cybersecurity environment changes daily. 

And a new purchasing fund for IT projects with new rules will let small pilot projects bypass competitive bidding if they are reviewed and found to meet certain criteria. The legislation also requires all technology project proposals to be ranked by Cockrill’s office, with no more than one-third of the projects ranked “high” priority.

The bill’s passage bred resentment in some, such as state Rep. Chris Reykdal, who said the spirit of the legislation presumes inefficiency on behalf of the state’s technology office and creates unnecessary constraints in an environment where IT is important to many agencies.

But Cockrill, who took the position as CIO in January, said he fully supports the new legislation. And as he’s gotten to know the state’s workings, he’s been heartened by what he’s seen both in terms of security efforts and the quality of IT projects.

The idea of ranking IT project proposals, which was opposed by some, was something his office did in the last legislative session, Cockrill said.

“We’re going to do it in a better, more transparent, more complete way for the next legislative session,” he said. “It’s a hard thing to do because the legislation is asking us to rank these things, but rank them based on what? That’s one of the reasons I’m so excited about the direction this law is going, because I can now answer that question. I will rank them based on how well they support this long-term vision around personalized government.”

One of the frustrations of ranking projects that has come up in the past, Cockrill said, is that everything is forced onto a common thread of comparison. A project related to welfare benefits could be compared with a taxation system modernization, which could be compared to a project to increase the efficiency of fish hatcheries.

“That’s an impossible task to do, and at the same time, it’s the task of government,” he said, adding that sometimes government workers are charged with impossible tasks, but they must try to do them the best they can to reach their overall goals.

This legislation is bigger than just a few changes, Cockrill said – it represents the state’s overall commitment to changing how it offers services. Technology must be secure, modern and mobile, he said, and this legislation and the overall legislative efforts of the last session largely support those goals. Several pieces of recent legislation, he said, have shown the state Legislature’s commitment and understanding of the importance of technology.

Getting technology to work for the state, he said, will largely be a matter of centralizing certain efforts and improving communication.

“I’m excited about where we are,” he said. “The more interaction I have with different agencies and the more I learn, the more I’m convinced that Washington is way better at technology than we are at communications."

Cockrill added that every time he "turns over a new rock" he sees something exciting in government that’s right along the lines of security, modernization and mobility -- and it's not something he means as a slight. The state's agencies aren’t always good at communicating what they’re doing, he said; it’s more a reflection of each agency’s dedication to their mission, which doesn’t necessarily highlight the importance of communication.

As for some great examples of how to do technology right, Cockrill points to some of the Department of Licensing’s projects.

“They are increasing capacity, they’re decreasing costs, and they’re doing it on a fixed budget,” he said. “And they’re increasing customer satisfaction, they’re decreasing the amount they’re spending out in the field, and they’re doing it by an intelligent, judicious use of technology even on top of some of their core systems that are a little bit antiquated.”

Cockrill said he’s not completely satisfied with the previous legislative session, citing disappointment with some projects that didn't receive funding.

A one-stop online portal for business needs such as licensing, permits and everything else business owners need -- a growing trend in state and city government -- is something Cockrill wanted to really deliver very targeted services to the consumer and businesses.

"We just didn’t have enough money to fund those things," he said. "And my intent from this office is to really work hard to demonstrate the value of those kinds of projects to the Legislature.”

Colin Wood  |  Staff Writer

Colin has been writing for Government Technology since 2010. He lives in Seattle with his wife and their dog. He can be reached at cwood@govtech.com