There are few people who know the inner workings of California’s Franchise Tax Board better than its CIO, Cathy Cleek. That’s the upside of working at a place for 33 years.
Cleek has seen it all as the tax board has moved away from paper-based processes in favor of all-digital workflows, online self-service for customers and business intelligence to improve the collection of 17 million tax returns each year. As the tax board’s CIO for the last 11 years, Cleek’s leadership and vision has been integral for success.
“The problems I like to take on are our hardest and biggest problems,” she said. “I like the challenge of hard. If I only have eight hours to work every day, I’d rather spend my time working on something hard that we’ve wanted to solve for a very long time.”
In 2016, Cleek and her 1,000-person staff finished what could be their toughest task to date: a business process improvement effort called Enterprise Data to Revenue (EDR). The ambitious project created an enterprise data warehouse, instituted predictive analytics, created digital images of paper tax returns and modernized legacy systems.
Elected officials have called EDR a template for doing a big project the right way. The five-year initiative came in on time, on budget and has helped California collect an additional $3.3 billion of revenue thus far.
The project is a capstone for Cleek, a sixth-generation Californian who grew up on a farm and started working for the tax board as an auditor after she graduated college with an accounting degree. She went on to serve in different positions across most of the tax board’s business lines: collections and tax return filing, recruitment, and the call center.
That wide view gave Cleek a unique perspective about how technology can help make the state government more efficient and improve service delivery to customers.
“I really see myself as the solution provider for FTB’s problems. I just happen to use technology to get everyone to work together,” Cleek said.
Franchise Tax Board CIO Cathy Cleek (right) was recognized as one of Government Technology's 2017 Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers during the California CIO Academy. Photo by Eyragon Eidam/Government Technology