Arizona CIO Morgan Reed was named to his post in October 2015, bringing with him 20 years of experience at companies including Intel, Expedia and GoDaddy. Housed within the Department of Administration (ADOA), Reed is bringing a private-sector mindset to the Arizona Strategic Enterprise Technology Office, where he’s been charged with bringing best-in-class technology to state systems. We talked with Reed about how he plans to transform IT in the state.
1. How has your private-sector experience shaped your outlook as state CIO?
My experience in the private sector over the 20 years prior to joining the state taught me how to implement good technology and how to do so quickly, and also what successful organizations look like and are structured like. So those are the pillars that I'm bringing into the state of Arizona: setting up the organization to be successful, putting people in the right roles, putting together a strategy to go after achievable things, but also to go big. We're not going to try to just solve one agency’s problem at a time. We're going to try to solve problems at the enterprise level that affect multiple agencies, and we're going to try to do so quickly.
Everybody's familiar with government that goes slowly or takes too long. Technology has a shelf life, and if you take too long to pick something out, it's going to be aged and dated by the time you roll it out. So we're trying to pick things that are not the same that five other states have done, but ask ourselves what would the private sector do? What are the technologies out there that are innovative and transformative? Because we can't take incremental steps to get better, we have to leapfrog. And then how quickly can we get those things rolled out? Either to one agency or two, or in some cases, to go statewide from the beginning, so we can get some quick wins, establish credibility and let that momentum build to carry us on to the next project.
2. What has surprised you most about working in the public sector?
The biggest surprise is how much opportunity there is to use technology to move the state forward — how big the organization is and how big the reach is, how every single interaction can be improved via technology, whether it's empowering case workers with more mobile solutions or providing more automation and process engineering to service customers faster or more efficiently.
In my private-sector experience, at GoDaddy, we were a Web hosting and domain company. It was pretty niche. Going on to Expedia, we were a travel company. We helped enable travelers. And then coming here, I look at the state and every agency and their different missions and visions and at how much we can do by providing some really good enterprise platforms that they can use to help their customers.
3. What are your priorities as state CIO?
We're in active planning sessions around our statewide IT strategy. For now, we're talking about doing innovative, best-in-class technologies to benefit as many state agencies as we can. While I'm not able to name specific vendors or platforms, we're trying to do more with mobile, cross-agency collaboration, and big data and analytics, as well as modernizing our ERP systems.
The other thing that we're doing strategically is looking at public-private partnerships. This is something that we've done successfully already. When I came to the state, the Department of Administration was already managing the state's network through a partnership with the private sector. Rather than me trying to pit myself against the CenturyLinks, GoDaddys and Expedias of the world, and trying to hire network engineers, we awarded a contract to private-sector companies that they had to bid for and compete. Our network provider has anywhere between 40 and 140 network engineers working for the state at any given time. They can pay them what they're worth, and they can keep current with technology. They have access to the most modern tools. We saw that as an opportunity to outsource a piece of technology that we're providing. We still own the relationship with the customers, we own the availability, but we have them delivering it for us.
We're going to take that same approach to other technologies, whether it's our mainframe, our service desk, desktop support, anything where we're pushing the buttons and making the lights go from red to green. We're starting to look at opportunities and vendors out there that can come in and help the state do this better, faster or cheaper. We hope to establish some more partnerships like that in the next year or two.
4. How does the cloud figure into your plans for state IT going forward? Is your workforce positioned for a more hosted IT environment?
Amazon’s gone on record saying we have one of the largest footprints of any state. We're looking to do more of that, not only with Amazon, but all the cloud providers. We see ourselves as a technology broker, so if somebody wants a server, they can come to us and we can put it in our data center. But the data center’s not one of our core capabilities — it's not a world-class data center by any means, and I've managed data centers for about 15 years, so I should know. Rather than put more equipment in our data center, in 2016 we're asking ourselves, why can't it be cloud?
But we believe the private sector, the folks that run data centers for a living, do it better than us. They can probably do it cheaper than us. If they can enable more of our customers to go into the cloud, it's going to make our total cost of ownership go down, we're going to need to have less fewer people around pushing those buttons physically. … The goal is going to be to get it out of the physical building and into a more reliable, more secure and hopefully lower- cost hosting model.
We're partnering with our state procurement office to negotiate training credits with our technology providers. So if we were to outsource a specific technology, we would offer training credits to the people affected to allow them to either support the new technology or retrain them for other efforts. Good talent is hard to find, and as we modernize our applications and our systems, we don’t necessarily want to leave anybody behind, which is not to say that everybody will or won't have a job, but there will be opportunities to learn new technologies.
Bonus Question:5. How do you encourage a culture of innovation?
Innovation is huge for us as we try to transform our technologies. The focus right now within ADOA is process improvement through lean initiatives. How can we shave a couple steps off of this? Where are we actually adding value? And in terms of implementing technology, we need to create a culture that makes it okay OK to fail. If you fire somebody that makes a mistake, people aren't going to want to take risks. If you're 85 percent confident it's going to work, go ahead and give it a try, but have a rollback backup plan. And let's set up test environments so you can practice prior to rolling it out in production.
Part of that is bringing on more software developers, whether direct hires or through contracts, to work on some of these modern technologies. As we implement cloud solutions, we can't do it all ourselves, but we want to partner with the folks that have done it, whether they be system integrators or professional services from the companies that we're buying the services through. But also, we don’t want to have them completely do it for us. Teach us how to fish. Through the implementation, if we can pick up some of the knowledge, and then they can build it and we can maintain it, that's where we want to be going forward.
Editor’s Note: The responses have been edited for length.
Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.