How Government Can Become More like Amazon

Colorado CIO Suma Nallapati wants to transform IT systems so that people look forward to interacting with government.

by / December 2016
Colorado CIO Suma Nallapati Colorado Governor's Office of Information Technology

Since becoming CIO of Colorado in May 2014, Suma Nallapati has focused on cloud computing and improving the user experience. Prior to state government, she led service delivery operations for Catholic Health Initiatives, one of the nation’s largest health-care networks, and co-founded an IT consulting firm, which helps frame her thinking when working with tech startups and entrepreneurs. We caught up with her in November at the Reverb conference in Denver, where the idea was posed that “government” should become the next noun to morph into a verb. “We Google, we tweet, we Uber, we Airbnb,” Nallapati said. “We should come up with a great word for that, and it should be so modern and effective that people look forward to interacting with government.”

1. Can you discuss your goal of government becoming more like Amazon.com?

We are looking at transforming government to make it so effective, efficient and elegant that users who interact with government can feel like they’re shopping on Amazon. If they need a hunting license, a driver’s license, a fishing license, they can go to this one-stop shop mobile platform and have that same experience when they go on the portal, Colorado.gov. We would like to have a consistent, modern technology that’s interfacing with them.

2. The state recently hired a digital transformation officer. How will that role help shape technology in Colorado?

We are looking at modernizing applications that have been legacy — they were state-
of-the-art once, but they are not state-of-the-art now. We adopted a very robust Google platform, and we want to make it consistent across applications, whether it’s drivers’ licenses or Department of Natural Resources. So this digital transformation officer will be working very closely with our agencies and working with their strategic plans and making sure that we are on the forefront of technology. It also includes the user experience, which is a very important component of digital transformation — thinking about it in our interfaces, in our design, in the ways that we interact with the user.

3. How do you work with state innovation officer, Erik Mitisek, and the Colorado Innovation Network (COIN)?

Erik Mitisek is a leader whom I truly admire. He brings a lot of energy to the table, and he and I have been on the board of COIN for a long time. We want to work with startups and entrepreneurs, and to bring that kind of energy to government innovation and technology. Erik and I speak a lot. He sends me opportunities for meeting with startups and entrepreneurs, and I tell him the challenges that I face as the chief information officer. There’s a lot of exchanging of ideas and thoughts.

4. Is it new for the state to look at bringing tech startups into these conversations?

The state of Colorado has been at the forefront of working with startups, and I’ll give you an example. In 2013 we had historic flooding in Colorado and so we had to stand up very quickly a website where everybody could come together and collaborate on incident response and the way recovery was going to happen. My Google team worked very closely with a company called Simply Local out of Boulder and we stood up that website in 48 hours. We had to have user interface design happen very quickly, so we worked closely with Galvanize [a tech co-working space]. And it’s still used today and is a model in terms of resilience and recovery across the nation. We were able to build that website not just for that one incident, but in order to handle any future emergencies.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Dec. 15.

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Government Technology from 2008 to 2017.