Having helped his state modernize several key areas of process during his tenure of more than six years, Maine’s top technology executive is set to retire at the end of the month.
Chief Information Officer Jim Smith, who returned to government in January 2012 after more than 20 years in the private sector, told Government Technology his last day at the state will be Sept. 30. Appointed midway through Gov. Paul LePage’s first term, Smith noted LePage is term limited this year and said: “I’d always planned to leave at the end of his administration. So this timing lines up with that.”
The transition process, he said, “is still being formatted,” but the state will fill from within, elevating the Office of Information Technology’s current Chief Operating Officer Ande Smith (no relation) to the CIO spot. It’s currently unclear whether Ande Smith will fill the position on an interim basis.
Jim Smith had been a developer for the state of Massachusetts from 1983 to 1986 according to his LinkedIn profile. After private-sector positions that included serving as vice president of IT at First Data Corp./The Boston Co., and as CIO of Sun Life Financial, he became CIO in a state that already enjoyed a centralized IT structure. But Maine, like other states, was confronting issues around how it handled enterprise-level projects, hiring, and even how it paid its bills, the CIO said.
Generally, one strategy Smith said he’s been able to use in a variety of situations is the idea of forming and leveraging partnerships — as the state did in December when it deployed the benefits side of a new unemployment claims website. The state partnered with Connecticut, Rhode Island and Mississippi in ReEmployUSA, an unemployment insurance (UI) consortium in the cloud that, for Maine, replaced a 25-year-old legacy system that was still partially reliant on COBOL.
Elsewhere, Smith led an update of the state’s network, to improve its redundancy and security; and of its project management office (PMO) and the approach to procurement, in an effort to move beyond the waterfall method and 200-page RFPs.
“I’m a big believer in getting the PMO right and getting the governance right, and we switched to an agile approach. We’re finding, more and more, we can do pilots, we can segregate, we can section stuff off, we can do bits and pieces and create quicker results,” Smith said, noting that the state has identified a 30 percent increase in productivity on these types of endeavors.
Similarly, the state saw the number of applicants interested in IT jobs jump by 30 percent after taking its recruitment process entirely online — and abandoning paper. Maine also partnered with high schools to give students early exposure to IT; with the private sector and education on Project>Login, a connection point between government and IT jobs; and with the private sector on a cyberapprenticeship program that’s still in development.
“We believe that, probably, the day of the state IT worker staying for 30 or 40 years, probably that day is over. But if we can get some of these bright young students … (to) come in and give us three to four years, then we’re ahead of the game,” Smith said, adding that the state has also worked to do more with internships and employ veterans.
Internally, Maine has adopted a cloud-first perspective and is moving its accounts receivables off paper as well — a shift the CIO said has dramatically improved the ability to track vendor payments.
The outgoing CIO said the state is also looking at setting policy for agencies around the Internet of Things (IoT). He described it as still “nascent.”
“A lot of technology comes in through the back door, and the agencies came to us and said, ‘It’s time now, to do some governance on this,’ and that’s what we’re working on,” Smith said. “It’s really worrisome on the security side because it’s new and it wasn’t always built with that in mind,” he said of IoT devices.
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.