Massachusetts CIO Discusses His Role in Health IT

Government Technology caught up with acting CIO and deputy CIO of Massachusetts John Letchford in May at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Mid-Year Conference.

by / July 7, 2011
John Letchford, CIO of Massachusetts David Kidd

As both acting CIO and deputy CIO of Massachusetts, John Letchford has his work cut out for him. Educated at the universities of York and Exeter, Letchford spent nine years with Procter & Gamble before entering civil service. He’s served the state as a technical operations manager, a director of enterprise OS and a Medicaid testing manager prior to his role as deputy CIO. Government Technology caught up with him in May at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Mid-Year Conference.

What are your top priorities in the state?

We are focusing on jobs, education, youth violence and health care. The question is, how do we get cost containment among all these key initiatives? My role is getting IT to support those initiatives while trying to drive cost down through consolidation and improved security. We’re building our second data center and getting involved with health IT, health insurance exchange and health information exchange.

What’s the CIO’s role in health IT?

The CIO’s role is to understand all the different components and ensure each piece has the attention it needs. Our CIO for health and human services is involved in many aspects of this, but there are other pieces. My attention is on understanding the players; the complexity; the operational, financial and policy issues; and making sure everything is addressed. It touches many things — federal, state and local governments, and providers.

What technologies can help cut costs or boost efficiency?

Virtualization. We’re working with our state partners and customers to drive as aggressively toward that as we can. I’m also partnering with NASCIO and the federal government to reassess how federal programs are funded. Instead of the build-from-scratch model, how can we fund things to be designed into components — whether it is Web services or service-oriented architecture — that ultimately provide value to the whole state? It requires a significant upfront investment, which is difficult to get because sometimes it can take years to reap the benefits.

What would you change about how government works?

I’ve been in government for about six years and there’s this unfortunate caricature of a government employee on a gravy train, and it’s just not the reality. Good stories don’t always sell in the general media, but it’d be nice if we could try to communicate those things.