Conversation with a CIO: Mississippi’s Craig Orgeron Discusses Coordinating Efforts Across Silos

In a new series, GovTech is looking for insights from IT decision-makers on the opportunities and issues facing their respective jurisdictions.

by / March 18, 2016
Mississippi CIO Craig Orgeron David Kidd/e.Republic
In a new series, GovTech is looking for insights from IT decision-makers on the opportunities and issues facing their respective jurisdictions. Each week, our staff aims to catch up with a state or local government CIO to discuss trending topics, particular pain points and initiatives geared to improve public-sector IT. 
 
This week we talked with Mississippi CIO Craig Orgeron, who has been leading the state’s IT charge since July 2011. Among the topics discussed were vital technology education legislation, coordinating efforts across government silos and the evolving role of the state CIO as an ambassador for information technology.
 
Q: What are some of the main initiatives and issues you are focusing on in Mississippi?
 
A: A couple thoughts come to mind. Clearly, like a lot of state CIOs, we are grappling with developing a definitive cloud strategy, how we broker cloud services, how we offer those services and how do we do it in the most cost-effective way for the state, but also not forgetting the security component and trying to put an enterprise solution together. That is probably one of our bigger strategic efforts, solely based on the fact that ... all things are becoming cloud in one way or another, and I think you have to have the frameworks in place to deal with that. 
 
Clearly, cybersecurity is top of mind, not just doing a good job with it, but where do you want to take your program? As it continues to evolve and the marketplace continues to evolve, where do you want to take your cyberprogram.
 
Bigger than particular cyberissues, I think it’s a question of governance. The governance of your state could greatly impact cyber. Are you a consolidated state — what kind of authority do you have? I think we are looking at a lot of those things.

Do state leaders in the Legislature understand the importance and challenges of information technology?  
 
Five years ago, the state built and moved into a new data center. After that happened, there was a tremendous amount of talk about consolidation and efficiencies, and I think it put technology on the map a little bit differently. ... It sort of put it on the budget map. I don’t think it put it on the map of enabling government and all the stuff that you guys write about and we strive for, but in terms of the budget and the numbers and the people, I think it did that five years ago. 
 
I think that technology is thought of more, No. 1, and two it seems to be thought of more holistically. It’s not ... we need to replace the system at the Department of Whatever. What I’m seeing now is not only a growing interest in technology being on the radar, but a growing interest in thinking of it bigger picture.

Is there a specific initiative underway in Mississippi that our readers should know about?
 
I don’t want to jinx myself, but we have a bill before the Legislature to create the Council on Education Technology. The idea is to bring together the K-12 community, the higher education community, the community colleges and libraries, the classic anchor institutions, and really seek to do some strategic planning for technology.
 
We have about five weeks left in the legislative session and the bill has had great success on both sides. I’m hopeful we’ll get that bill and bring these leaders together and look at the issues in the educational community.
 
If you had to identify one major pain point for Mississippi IT, what would that be?
 
I’m going to go old-school on you and say that we are a relatively decentralized state. I think one pain point is how do you muster folks and get them moving in the direction? How do you move the ball forward when everyone has their own agenda?
 
If you put the collective dollars together, and I really mean this, I think the state could really move forward because you are going to squeeze some saving out of it, and hopefully the Legislature would help us reinvest some of those dollars. But if you don’t really have that, it’s very difficult to move the state forward.
 
I call it a pain point, but that’s how we are put together and so you work within that space. But I have to believe there is a better way to enable government to spend its technology dollars more successfully.
 
You seem very active in the legislative space. What can you tell us about your role as a sort of technology ambassador? 
 
That’s a wonderful word, I was going to use "advocate," but "ambassador" is even better. The thing you have to watch out for is that you can sound selfish. 
 
I genuinely believe, whether you hear it or not, that if you want to advocate for technology investment in the public sector, I think everybody would say this, what’s the enabler of our generation? It’s technology. Smart investment in those resources can do an awful lot for government. 
 
There is a large part of the role that I think is advocate as well as running the agency. ... I don’t think being technical anymore buys you a lot. I think you need to be strategically conversant. You’ve got to be able to understand very quickly technical conversations, and then you have to be able to both translate and offer those up in ways people can understand. Because you’ll lose, not just legislators, you’ll lose people in a heartbeat ... [with] a lot of jargon. 
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.