If you want to understand how and why the government IT department is changing, talk to Anne Roest, CIO and commissioner of New York City’s Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT). The days when hardware, software and networking had to be acquired piece by piece and custom assembled are over.
Roest, who became commissioner in 2014, is in the midst of reshaping DoITT’s mission. “We are working on becoming more of a broker, rather than a services provider,” she said.
Roest has had a long career in technology, first as a programmer and analyst in the private sector and then with the state of New York, where she rose through the ranks and presided over a number of game-changing IT projects, including the overhaul of the state’s tax systems and a multi-agency tech upgrade for public safety. But now she is undertaking one of her most challenging projects: guiding the nation’s largest local government IT agency to become an organization that is fast, flexible and adaptive to customer needs.
What is considered successful in IT hasn’t changed, according to Roest. “At the end of the day, you need to provide value to your customers at a reasonable cost.” But how you get there has changed. Instead of building monolithic IT systems that cost millions of dollars and take months to complete, IT departments are now focused on how to deliver more value, faster. “You need to build things in a different way, so the system can be more flexible and dynamic,” she said.
Thanks to the cloud and agile development, projects can get done faster and there’s opportunity to build better, higher-quality solutions. “But they are not necessarily easier to build,” she added.
But Roest has never avoided tackling the tough problems, and she uses her leadership skills with her managers to help DoITT pivot toward the future. That means leading, but not micromanaging. “I’m making sure I have the right people in the right seats on the bus and we know where the bus is going. That’s when I let my people do their job.”