Delaware CIO James Collins on Thinking Like a Customer

Coming from the customer side of the state’s IT agency gives Collins a unique view of its role.

by / August 21, 2015

Aspiring dentist turned technologist — that’s not your everyday CIO story. Near the end of his career in the military, James Collins worked on a special duty assignment doing continuous process improvement, a move that changed his future. Collins stopped preparing for dental school, left the military and later landed as Delaware’s deputy fleet manager where he got into technology.

“My first job was to find a system to manage the state’s fleet and get it implemented across the state,” he said. “They told me that after I got hired. I cried a little and then just got to it.”

Collins enjoyed that project so much he went to work for Peregrine Systems, the provider of the fleet-management system. He transitioned to Maximus after it purchased the product, but before too long Delaware came calling again. Collins then held a variety of roles with the state: director of the licensing agency, which he helped take from the “manila folder age to the information age;” deputy secretary of state where he worked on veteran-related IT projects; and then deputy chief of staff to Gov. Jack Markell, with technology as a policy area. He became Delaware’s CIO last October.

Coming from the customer side of the state’s IT agency gives him a unique view of its role.

“In order for us to be a resource and a business partner, we’ve got to understand the business of our customers to the greatest extent that we can,” said Collins. It also doesn’t hurt that he became CIO having relationships already established with many of the cabinet members, opening the door for conversations. For example, encouraging agency heads to incorporate IT into their strategic plans prevents technology from being an afterthought. “We’ve still got work to do to get people to think about technology as a core part of their overall business strategy.”

Collins’ agenda in the near term is to continue development of the state’s cloud and migrating servers to it (about 1,500 have been moved so far). The migration has allowed for data center consolidation — Delaware has gone from five to two major data centers, and by the end of the year Collins plans to have just one. In addition, a 2010 executive order from the governor called for consolidation of the state’s IT operations and services. The Department of Technology and Information has been working to place its employees in state agencies, and Collins said a couple of agencies are still in the consolidation process. A main benefit of the consolidation is enabling better risk mitigation and a consistent security posture throughout the state.

“It gets our standards out there,” he said, “and it gets us close to the business and talking to the business owners.”

Elaine Pittman Former Managing Editor

Elaine Pittman worked for Government Technology from 2008 to 2017.