California’s IT community gathered Wednesday, August 21, at the annual GTC West conference in Sacramento to recognize the people and projects that are successfully leading the state into the future.

Co-sponsored by Government Technology and the Center for Digital Government, the Best of California awards program honored more than a dozen programs and applications in state and local government, along with nearly 50 state workers from a variety of agencies.

The California Department of Motor Vehicles testing system, a child support e-records system in San Diego County, California’s GeoPortal for geospatial information, and the state prisons’ offender management system were among the projects that were awarded for excellence.

“This year the Best of California award winners really focused on the fundamental business of government: public safety, health and human services and streamlining regulation. They showed us that they are using technology to make complicated processes faster, easier and cheaper, and that improves things for both employees and citizens,” said Todd Sander, executive director of the Center for Digital Government.

Two officials who manage some of the state’s biggest computer systems were recognized for outstanding achievements. Chris Cruz, deputy director and CIO of the California Department of Health Care Services, was recognized for Demonstrated Leadership in Management of Information Technology. Linda Fredericksen, field operations division chief for the Disability Insurance Branch of the California Employment Development Department, was recognized with the Demonstrated Excellence in Project Management award.

Chris CruzThere are few people in California state government who multi-task quite like Chris Cruz (pictured at left), who is heavily involved in managing several of the state’s biggest health-care IT modernization efforts, as well as an enterprise transformation within his own department.

Since joining the Department of Health Care Services (DHCS) in his current role two and a half years ago, Cruz has consolidated IT programs during the Governor’s Reorganization Plan that merged and transitioned the Department of Mental Health, the Alcohol and Drug Program, the California Medical Advisory Commission, and the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board Healthy Families Program to DHCS. Under his leadership, the head count in his organization has increased from 176 staff to 547 state and contract employees.

“This has been a position about change leadership, quite frankly, and change management,” Cruz said, from both a system and people perspective.

There is constant change afoot with the federal Affordable Care Act; the department is involved in the development of electronic health records and the state’s health benefits exchange, and continues to run the Medi-Cal eleigibility system and provide data center and networking services to 10,000 internal staff.

Under Cruz’s leadership, DHCS also has produced an IT strategy document and enterprise architecture, developed the California Health Care Quality Report Card application, and implemented a system to track the department’s $1 billion IT portfolio.

“This is probably one of the busiest organizations I have ever worked for,” said Cruz, who has worked for the state for more than a decade, with stops at the California Department of Public Health and the agriculture department.

Cruz said his job at DHCS has been to set clear expectations upfront, articulate a vision and strategy for the state’s health-care IT, build collaboration and consensus across business lines, and steer the largest state-run health organization in the country.

He’s also working to improve staff retention, Cruz said. He has enacted a robust teleworking policy, which is supported by the department’s increasing usage of virtual desktop infrastructure along with several training opportunities.

“I try to ensure my army is well equipped, well rested, and has what it needs to be successful,” Cruz said.

Linda FredericksenThe other award winner, Linda Fredericksen (pictured at left), has played a major role during her 37-year career with the Employment Development Department in moving the department off of green screens in favor of an automated, online system called SDI Online for state disability insurance processing. She has been the project manager on the $160 million project since it began in 2006. At times, 300 employees were involved.

For many years, the disability insurance side of the EDD was still keying in claims to an old mainframe system, so Fredericksen and her team had to prepare for major change management. She said there were 11 separate threads of design requirements going on simultaneously, and they had to ensure that each element wasn’t infringing on the others.

It was a big challenge, but the new self-service system is paying off. A percentage of claims are now handled automatically by a business rules engine, without any human intervention. Claimants, medical providers and employers can now set up accounts and submit claim information online. Under Fredericksen’s leadership, SDI Online was delivered on time and within budget.

Fredericksen said she enjoys that’s there’s a new challenge every day at the Disability Insurance Branch.

“I think the biggest thing I’ve learned about managing an organization is that you have to listen to your staff,” she said. “You have to respond to issues when they come up; you can’t let things lie and hope they go away.”

Project Excellence Awards

Best Application Serving an Agency’s Business Needs

San Diego Child Support Legal Paperless System, County of San Diego, Department of Child Support Services

The San Diego Department of Child Support Services developed the Legal Paperless System (LPS) to eliminate the need for paper litigation files used by child support attorneys in daily court hearings. A critical component of LPS was the application’s seamless integration of multiple disparate multi-agency systems that have led to improved efficiencies in the court calendar process and resulted in annual savings of more than $330,000.

Strategic Offender Management System (SOMS), California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

The Strategic Offender Management System (SOMS) is an electronic system composed of an integrated central offender database, a Web-based management application, and a comprehensive document management system. SOMS improves staff and inmate safety with secure access to accurate and complete information, and increases staff efficiency, effectiveness and accuracy by providing access to real-time information in a single database. For example, inmate “count” verification time has decreased from two hours to two minutes. SOMS also enables data sharing with other law enforcement and judicial agencies. Savings are estimated at $4 million annually.

Best Application Serving the Public

Visitor Processing Appointment Scheduling System (VPASS), California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

The Visitor Processing Appointment Scheduling System (VPASS) is a bilingual, public-facing Internet system for inmate families, friends, and attorneys to make online appointments to visit inmates. Staff manage and monitor the reservations through a Web-based application accessible from any department-networked workstation. VPASS provides the public with the visiting status of each institution, provides email notification of any changes, and has helped many long-distance families plan their visits.

Automated Multiple Choice Knowledge Testing System, California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV)

The Automated Multiple Choice Knowledge Testing System allows customers to take their Driver’s License knowledge tests on touchscreen computer terminals. After getting their Driver’s License application or renewal receipt, customers scan the receipt bar code into the testing computer, answer identity-validation questions, then access tests for which they are eligible. The computer terminals, integrated with DMV’s backend system, immediately update applicant scores. Currently the system is available in the Stockton field offices with plans to expand to all 172 DMV field offices, replacing 8.9 million paper tests annually.

California Online Voter Registration (COVR), Secretary of State

Secretary of State Debra Bowen launched online voter registration last September. Secretary Bowen secured federal funding for the project so there was minimal cost to California taxpayers. Her staff built a secure pipeline between the Secretary of State, the Department of Motor Vehicles and each of the 58 county elections offices -- establishing security procedures and policies that protect applicants' privacy. More than 883,000 Californians have used the online system to register for the first time or update their voter record. The system saved more than $2.5 million.

Best IT Collaboration Among Organizations

Financial Institution Record Match Project – FIRM, California FTB, BOE and EDD

California’s state government tax agencies – the Franchise Tax Board (FTB), the Board of Equalization (BOE) and the Employment Development Department (EDD) are working together with California financial institutions to more efficiently collect the state’s delinquent tax dollars. The tax agencies collaborated extensively and established a joint master record file of delinquent tax and non-tax debt account information (such as delinquent DMV fees) rather than the previous three separate accounts. The more efficient process has generated 200 percent more revenue than targeted ($90 million) for the state.

Response Information Management System (RIMS) Replacement System, California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services

In collaboration with more than 50 local government, state, tribal, federal and private resources throughout California, the Response Information Management System (RIMS) was replaced and upgraded, facilitating interoperability among emergency response personnel. Disparate users can communicate, upload and share data in real time across jurisdictions during an emergency event. The system is Web- and mobile-enabled for field use. During an event, the system collects data that creates a common operational picture -- providing a snapshot view of the event resulting in quicker response times. In addition, the new cybersecurity component provides the state with the ability to monitor cyberattacks and track trends.

Best In-House Developed Application

State of California GeoPortal, California Department of Technology

The California GeoPortal is an interactive gateway that transforms access to California’s geospatial information and to thousands of geographic data sources around the country. Easy to use, secure and customizable, the California GeoPortal is a Web-based, interactive catalog of geographic information providing access for businesses, citizens and government. The GeoPortal was developed in-house with existing resources, is available to state agencies and local departments and provides a robust set of management tools at no cost, saving the state nearly $1 million annually.

Web-based Known Person Finder (WebKPF), Sacramento County Sheriff's Department

Developed in-house, the Web-based Known Person Finder, WebKPF, is an application used by thousands of law enforcement officers in the Sacramento region to search photos of a subject and determine whether they are on probation, parole or a wanted list. In addition, field officers can now rapidly follow leads. Virtually all law enforcement agencies in the region, including the FBI, DEA and U.S. Marshalls Office now rely on WebKPF. According to Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) statistics, the crime rate in Sacramento County has dropped by 25 percent since its deployment.

Best Mobile/Wireless Project

Ask Elk Grove, Mobile Application and CRM, City of Elk Grove

Ask Elk Grove is a mobile application and CRM solution that features many innovations including the unique widget system that allows staff to create apps within the app. On one app, citizens can: submit and track service requests, such as graffiti and illegal dumping; upload images from mobile phones; find out about public meetings and community events; and view and track other requests in the neighborhood. Citizen engagement management tools allow viewing of issues and feedback by geographic boundaries and a single customizable platform of city information can be built from data flows. Reports and map-drawing tools provide a citywide view and trend-monitoring.

California Health Care Report Card, California Department of Health Care Services

The California Health Care Quality Report Card mobile app was developed by the Department of Health Care Services for the Office of the Patient Advocate. It provides quality ratings on more than 200 of the largest medical groups, HMOs and PPOs in California. The app shows patients’ ratings of health plans on important issues like doctor communication, scheduling appointments, and customer service. In addition, contact information for complaint filing and consumer assistance information for the plan or medical group is included.

San Diego County SD Emergency Mobile App, County of San Diego Public Safety Group

The San Diego County Office of Emergency Services created the SD Emergency Mobile App, which allows a smartphone or tablet to access information to help users prepare for, respond to and recover from disasters. During a fire or other event, users are notified of official county updates, emergency maps, shelter locations, CAL FIRE, county and city social media, and even volunteer opportunities. The “Ready” section of the app includes information by disaster type, interactive checklists to prepare an emergency 72-hour kit, and templates to devise and save a family disaster plan. The free app can be downloaded at SDCountyEmergency.com, or in the Apple App and Google Play stores.

The Green IT Award

STAR - Incentivizing Excellence in Smog Check Inspections, Business, Consumer Services and Housing Agency

In January, the Bureau of Automotive Repair (BAR) initiated the STAR Smog Check Program for stations that inspect and certify grossly polluting vehicles. These stations must meet specific performance standards relative to calculations from data collected at the time of each smog inspection. Results from the calculations are made available on a public-facing website, giving station owners a management tool that not only tracks their station’s performance but also the performance of individual technicians. Initial results indicate that the quality of inspections performed has improved significantly – expected smog check failure rates have increased and incidents of improper smog check inspections are down – ultimately providing cleaner air for Californians.

Innovation & Vision in Government Award

Martin N. Hoshino

Undersecretary of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Outstanding IT Service and Support Awards

Mike Packard, California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board

Bill Buffington, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Darrell Friddle, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Tammy J. Irwin, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Heidi Perris, California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation

Scott McArdle, California Department of Food and Agriculture

Toquyen Collier, California Department of Health Care Services

Chad Crowe, California Department of Human Resources

Michael MacIntosh, California Department of Public Health

Ligaya Perara, California Department of Public Health

Tony Tran, California Department of Public Health

Tony Williams, California Department of Technology

Luong Phong, California Department of Veterans Affairs

Steve Bonta, California Energy Commission

Jane LaTona, California Environmental Protection Agency

Lovell Hopper, California Governor's Office of Emergency Services

Spencer Ung, California Governor's Office of Emergency Services

Jerry Edwards, California Horse Racing Board

Ashish Kumar, California Housing Finance Agency

Ioana Alcouffe, California Public Employees' Retirement System

Brad Swart, California Public Employees' Retirement System

Sean King, California State Teachers' Retirement System

Gino Vicente, California State Teachers' Retirement System

Anthony Goins, Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control

Dharma Jeevamani, Department of Consumer Affairs

Mark Albert, Department of Fair Employment and Housing

Nancy Taylor, Department of Finance

Stephen Adams, Department of Fish and Wildlife

Bill Haubrich, Department of General Services

Clifford Stayton, Department of Housing and Community Development

Andrei Reprinsev, Department of Industrial Relations

Jason Marks, Department of Toxic Substances Control

Pam Ceccarelli, Department of Water Resources

Richard Harmonson, Department of Water Resources

Brian Niski, Department of Water Resources

Michael Thrall, Employment Development Department

Jeff Garcia, Franchise Tax Board

Darice Trafton, Franchise Tax Board

Kelly Hassenplug, Lottery

Sam Streater, Lottery

Shauna Pompei, Office of Systems Integration

Miguel Salazar, Office of Systems Integration

Shelley Morse, State Board of Equalization

Fred Kessler, State Controller's Office

Corey Dickman, State Water Resources Control Board

Grace Varrelman, Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board

Editor's Note: Janet Grenslitt of the Center for Digital Government contributed to this story.

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.