IT Leaders Must Maintain Ability to Direct Despite Obstacles, Opposition to New Tech

Transformation, disruption and collaboration took center stage during the TechWire California Industry Forum, Nov. 8.

by / November 11, 2016
Franchise Tax Board CIO Cathy Cleek (center) shares her approach to collaborating and bringing on stakeholders with other state technology leaders and guests of the TechWire California Industry Forum Nov. 8. Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Tech leaders face a new barrage of challenges and opportunities with every new development. Some technologies spur reactive action and force uncomfortable changes, while others can be shaped into positive outcomes that better services the business of governing.

How those in command of state assets and operations react to new developments make all the difference. This was the topic of discussion for one group of panelists the TechWire California Industry Forum* Tuesday, Nov. 8.  

Disruption for the Better

With no way to stop the flood of new technologies, government has turned to embracing them as a tool for positive change. Connected devices and the ability to analyze enormous amounts of data empowers agencies to tap into hidden opportunities and better tailor the services they provide.

From the perspective of CalCloud Project Director Scott McDonald, connected devices and the constant evolution of analytics capabilities put the state in front of a substantial opportunity, but the shift is also forcing cultural change.

“The exponential growth of connectivity between people and devices, it really is changing the way we look at IT,” he said. “There is the expectation that we are going to move faster, really time-to-market per se. We’re going to really streamline how we get these systems out a lot quicker. But at the same time, we really have to address … the security behind this thing too …”

Data analytics, which has been largely accepted as a can’t-live-without tool for government everywhere, also creates the need for qualified interpreters to digest the information. This inherently prompts cultural and organizational changes.

As Franchise Tax Board CIO Cathy Cleek contends, the transformation process is as much about people as it is about the technology. While she recognizes change can breed fear, she acknowledges that it also creates learning opportunities that should not be ignored.

“We as leaders, when we are trying to transform, people want to put a ‘bad news’ label on it,” she said. “Some of the situations that are hard at first, you learn your best lessons.”

The key, she added, is leadership and the ability to direct despite the obstacles and opposition.      

Emerging Challenges and Trends

Amid a sea of potential challenges, Scott Gregory, chief of the state's Office of Digital Innovation, said he prefers to view them through the lens of opportunity in different stripes, all while recognizing the end goal of serving the state and its citizens more effectively.

“When I look at challenges – this may sound a little cliché, but – I look at them as opportunities in work boots,” he joked. "I think that we always have to be recognizing [that] at the end of the day, the folks that pay our salaries, the people we serve … that we are all collectively working to make California better.”

Though Gregory said he is cautious of the trends and buzzwords that fly around in the technology space, he is optimistic for advances being made in open data, data-driven decision-making, and hybrid and fully open source solutions.

“We’ve taken a monumental step forward in engendering a new sort of approach to leveraging open source technology in the state,” he said. “We released the very first-of-its-kind California Innovation Lab, so that is giving individuals and organizations an opportunity to leverage open source technology to solve real-world problems.”

Cleek agreed and said data analytics holds the solutions to many of the problems facing agencies throughout the larger state enterprise. The ability to better target issues holds promise in areas like social services, fraud prevention and overall service delivery, she said.

She also looks toward artificial intelligence as a potential for government to capitalize on the rapidly advancing technology, especially as it relates to high volume citizen-to-government operations.

One potential application, Cleek said, is in call centers where incoming calls far outnumber the ability to answer them in a timely manner.

“Every call center I have ever worked with gets more calls that they can answer," she noted, "and I just think it is really exciting what we may be able to use artificial intelligence to answer people's questions.”

Empowering Initiatives and Collaborating

Regardless of the perceived barriers to innovation, the panel concurred on the importance of partnering throughout all levels of the enterprise. For Gregory, engaging beyond the executive levels of the organization is key to the success of any tech-centric initiative. While he said he engages at the top rungs of the ladder, he also said the production-level staff – or as he explained it, the people doing the heavy lifting – are almost more critical to any project.

Cleek said that at the Franchise Tax Board, she leverages three stages of on-boarding for stakeholders for her projects. The first is knowing key problems partners are facing, second is leveraging deputies to help convince decision-makers, and third is keeping the conversation based around tangibles.

One area where partnerships have been successful is the sharing of data between state and federal agencies. In her role at the Franchise Tax Board, data sharing between agencies like the IRS and Department of Motor Vehicles has helped the agency to improve operations, such as finding the correct information for citizens that owe the state money.

“I think a lot of time in government … we all have the same customers," she said, "so let’s share the data if we can use it to help each other."

*The State of Technology - California Industry Forum is an event hosted by TechWire, a publication owned by e.Republic Inc., which also is the parent organization of Government Technology.  

Eyragon Eidam Web Editor

Eyragon Eidam is the Web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as  assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at eeidam@erepublic.com.