California Utility Regulator's IT Modernization Focuses on the Experience

The California Public Utilities Commission is deploying new mobile- and Internet-friendly apps and platforms to modernize customer and employee interactions.

by / February 23, 2018
Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which has been exploring mobile technology and making its work more digital, is now beginning to change both customer and employee experiences, its chief information officer told Government Technology, as the agency expands its presence and information technology workforce in Sacramento.

Recognizing the transformational impact of IT, CPUC has upgraded IT services from a branch to a division, filling 55 positions — 37 of them new employees. That’s no mean feat in Northern California, where unfilled tech positions in San Francisco and the Silicon Valley have driven salaries to record levels, CIO Reza Yazdi said.

With these hirings, Yazdi said, he was able to reorganize the IT Services Division (ITSD), adding sections focused on Web applications, mobile development, network and information security. He's also bringing in a new enterprise architect.

The agency has also added organizationwide committees, including its IT governance committee, tasked with enabling the efficient and effective use of IT and helping CPUC achieve strategy goals and objectives; and the IT change control approval committee, focused on ensuring changes in IT and technical areas do not sacrifice business continuity.

The electronic age, Yazdi said, has placed many new responsibilities on CPUC.

“These components of electronic communication, in general, have (made) a lot of new roles and responsibilities for IT, to create a digital foundation for the CPUC, to be able to do transactions with the customer, internal users, the external users, the utility companies and all other sister agencies statewide,” said Yazdi, a state employee of more than 20 years who has been CIO since June 2015.

To that end, CPUC developed eFAST last year, an e-filing system aimed at streamlining the filing process for utilities. Now, the agency is looking at applications for that system and is doing market research for a transportation career application and equipment e-filing portal.

Similarly, CPUC is looking into developing another application for consumers, who now file complaints against utilities by letter or telephone call, to do so more efficiently online.

“We want to shorten the window of time to process these applications, do a response to the public … and make any kind of transaction basically faster,” said Yazdi.

Somewhat simultaneously, the organization is working to transform how CPUC staffers can do their own jobs — standing up a new virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) platform capable of allowing around 600 employees to concurrently work “from anywhere,” with full access to their existing environments.

The agency has also deployed SharePoint and is in the process of transitioning to Office 365. And here, as elsewhere, Yazdi and others have kept an eye on cybersecurity.

Its VDI and SharePoint deployments require two-factor authentication, and CPUC has received state approval to create a cybersecurity task force under its Safety and Enforcement Division (SED), Yazdi said. The agency is in the process of hiring to create that group.

The division is charged with, among other things, ensuring consumer protection in utility transactions. Its responsibilities will include ensuring those transactions remain secure from bad actors, and that data is also accessible but secure.

Exploring and creating new apps, and standing up divisions has cost “a lot of money,” Yazdi said, noting that CPUC has spent at least $12 million annually to secure services and products and employ the vendor community for assistance in roll-outs, technical support and training.

As might be expected, integrating new technologies, offering additional services and expanding IT has been reflected in the number of internal CPUC service request tickets. The agency processed more than 22,000 during the last year, the CIO said — a record-breaking number.

“That, by itself, shows how IT has changed its role to the core business of CPUC and made a big impact on all different aspects of the CPUC environment,” Yazdi said.

Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.