Calvin Rhodes, CIO of Georgia, is part of a growing number of state IT chiefs who have spent most of their careers in the private sector. Prior to becoming state CIO in January, Rhodes served as managing partner at Paladin Investments, a private firm he established in 2009. The bulk of his career – 27 years – was spent at Fulton Paper Company, where he served as executive vice president. Rhodes spoke to Government Technology about his move to the public sector and the challenges he’s facing.
What tops your list of priorities?
We just finished with our budget issues and the Legislature, and that became a priority because of timing since we have a part-time Legislature. And being new to state government, it’s not only trying to learn the process, but making sure we got the right message to the right people in the Legislature so we addressed any concerns they had.
Our state has embraced outsourcing of our IT infrastructure, which has been a five- to six-year effort. So that’s where a lot of my attention and focus is on a daily basis — focusing on the strategy and really trying to leverage where we have had some great successes.
The state has been a leader in outsourcing. What is your assessment so far?
We spent a lot of energy on a reassessment to improve how we get things accomplished. We’re trying to keep agency buy-in and keep them at the table, which is really important. I think you have to show them accomplishments and that you’re moving through their priorities. That’s why you have to keep the communication up. Even when you think you’re doing a great job communicating, they have so many other areas they’re focused on that you truly have to keep coming back and driving the message. We have to work together to be successful in an outsourcing environment.
Are there certain technologies that particularly intrigue you?
From a technology standpoint, the whole focus on cloud computing and trying to figure out policy-wise where that fits comes to mind. We have been more focused on the private cloud as far as concerns about security and in continuity of services. I think you have some agencies that look at the cost and think they can provide a Gmail solution. But then you lay that against open record requests and those types of things, where you have to be able to respond quickly. In government you have to make sure that you meet regulatory requirements.
If there is one thing you could change about how government works, what would that be?
I’d put some distance between the new administration coming in and our part-time Legislature meeting — it started at the same time and it was like, “Turn on the fire hose and absorb as much as you can.” You’re at all the briefings trying to absorb all this information. At the same time, you’re feeling like the Legislature thinks you are maybe not as prepared as you would like to be.