North Dakota’s Newest C-Suite Leaders Reveal Strategies for IT Unification

CTO Duane Schell and Chief Reinvention Officer Julie Cabinaw talk about their plans to address North Dakota’s massive IT unification plans.

by / July 27, 2018
David Kidd/e.Republic

North Dakota’s new chief technology officer and its new chief reinvention officer (CRO) face the challenging task of unifying 17 cabinet agency IT departments into one and moving its data into the cloud — all without reducing the level of service to its citizens, employees and lawmakers.

Recently appointed CTO Duane Schell and CRO Julie Cabinaw, who will join the state in her new role on Aug. 20, recently shared some of their strategies for tackling the task ahead. Within her first 100 days at North Dakota’s Information Technology Department (ITD), Cabinaw, who served as vice president of innovation and business technology at Scentsy, listed a three-point plan.

“I plan to first listen and learn, then identify and target areas where there are high pain points and need for efficiencies,” said Cabinaw, adding she will then focus on quick wins while also developing a long-term road map.

As CRO, Cabinaw will be responsible for leading teams to develop different experiences for citizens across several industries and at the cross-section of technology, business and innovation.

The decision to hire a CRO versus a chief innovation officer, as a number of states and local governments have done, was based on the idea that innovation connotes creating something new, whereas with the unification process is more of taking best practices, existing technologies and applications and finding new ways to retool, reuse or alter their use, said North Dakota Rep. Corey Mock, chairman of the state’s Information Technology Committee, in recalling a conversation he had with state CIO Shawn Riley, who created the three C-level IT positions. 

“Reinvent is to reapply,” Mock said, adding that reinvention may be a better path to take, given state government is not as quick to adapt as the private sector based on how frequently the legislature and committees meet.

Common pain points citizens face when trying to access websites run by various states often include information that is difficult to find or difficulties with conducting a transaction, said Cabinaw. Website issues also include problems around efficiencies and the seamless flow of moving on the site.

One of the projects Cabinaw worked on at Scentsy involved creating an open ideation platform for the company’s independent representatives to ask questions and submit feedback to the company’s leaders who oversaw various categories at the firm, and to provide a transparent view where leaders could provide updates on whether action was taken on the representative’s feedback.

Although this type of platform has not been proposed for North Dakota state agencies, Cabinaw explained she does plan to talk to the various agencies and see if they would like a type of forum for citizens to provide feedback.

Big To-Do List 

As CTO, Schell is tasked with establishing the long-range strategy and direction for North Dakota’s technology backbone, as well as moving the state’s data to the cloud and ensuring its service management continues to perform for stakeholders. He is already quite familiar with North Dakota’s IT department where he previously served as ITD’s director of network services since 2009. 

Schell noted that in 2003 the state Legislature gave its blessing to consolidate the data centers. As a result, data for all 17 cabinet agencies are already in two data centers and some mainframes, so the work that still has to be done is deciding which data can move to a public cloud like Amazon Web Services or a private cloud hosted by the state. 

Meanwhile, managing legacy applications and mainframes will also be among the challenges Schell faces as the state consolidates its technologies.

“This will be less about the physical consolidation of computing, but more about the unification of services and strategies,” he explained. 

Schell will also need to ensure all the stakeholders understand the details as ITD works through its road map. The solution is to provide the Legislature with the information it needs on what ITD will be shifting and the budget implications. 

As for the move to the cloud, Schell says not all the stakeholders have bought into the reliability of the technology and its security. He plans to educate stakeholders on how large cloud companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google have more resources available to them than the state to safeguard the data in the cloud and ensure a deep bench of redundant systems to make the data available when needed, he added.

“We all know that the cloud is where innovation can occur,” said Schell.

With the addition of the CTO and CRO positions, and eventually the chief data officer position, the Legislature will gain a better understanding of what ITD does and the services it can bring to the citizens of North Dakota, according to Mock.

Dawn Kawamoto Former Staff Writer

Dawn Kawamoto is a former staff writer for Government Technology.