Tim Bottenfield is new to the role of state CIO as of July, but he’s no stranger to government IT, having spent the last seven years as chief information officer for Montana’s Department of Revenue (DOR). Previous work in data-rich forestry science as well as 25 years spent at Alabama’s Auburn University bring a fitting background to C-level tech, and Bottenfield plans to use that experience to drive efficiency and strengthen staff connections.

1. How is your time as CIO with DOR serving you in your new role?

What helped for many years was that in my early career at Auburn I got to wear almost every hat imaginable in the IT world. But I think the key thing I bring into this job [from DOR] is the fact that I was able to build good rapport with my agency peers. And I’m coming into the position of state CIO with the perspective of having worked as agency CIO, and one of the main goals is to be able to continue to build rapport with the agencies to be able to recognize that they are the portal to the citizens.

2. What’s your vision for enhancing the relationship between citizens and the state?

Institutionally, I’ve got to lead the way and show that the way we’re going to be able to best serve the citizens is being able to serve the agencies. We are moving in a direction where we have a more consistent approach to presenting information and interacting with the citizens. But I think we’ve got a ways to go, and collaboration with the agencies is where we’re going to be able to make strides. We’ve got to be able to take new technologies, and those at our fingertips right now, and be able to work together to make sure that we’re doing it in a consistent fashion, that we don’t have maybe Agency A, B and C over here doing things in one way and then we’ve got another group of agencies doing it another way. We just need to keep looking at that, make sure that we’re working together and that we stay in concert with each other.

3. What is your top priority as CIO?

It doesn’t really matter if you’re the Department of Revenue, if you’re the Health and Human Services agency — everybody gets the fact that security is really the No. 1 thing. We just can’t let our guard down. It’s not a sexy thing to talk about, but it has to be central to every single thing that we do. It has to be paramount. We do the best that we possibly can. Of course, we wish we had more resources in that area, and I don’t think we’ll ever get to the point where we’re not clamoring for more resources in security. We must have a consistent approach to it. I’m very pleased to come into a situation where security is taken so seriously and we have staff working really hard on it.

4. What’s your approach to attracting and retaining talent?

Across a lot of sectors, people are getting concerned about the dwindling numbers of trained people, and we’re starting to see that crunch in IT. We especially feel that in Montana from time to time, being a small state. A lot of times our tech experts graduate from college and they’re gone. We’re dealing with a situation in Montana where unemployment is very low, so now there’s a premium on those folks that are trained and it’s a dogfight to get exceptional people in the door and to hold on to them. And that’s especially tough in government and state government. We’re all also struggling a little bit with the cultural shift in the way younger people are thinking when they get out of college now. Most young people aren’t getting into an organization and thinking that they’re going to be there for 30 years. If we can get somebody trained and keep them for five to six years, that’s kind of the shift in our mentality now in hiring.