Rod Davenport got his first glimpse of technology in sixth grade, when he saw an Apple II computer. He’s been hooked ever since. Today, he’s the chief technology officer for the state of Michigan, but the excitement and appreciation for what technology can do has remained since that eventful moment. “Technology is the amplifier of the human spirit,” he said, philosophically. “It’s always had this potential for transformation in society.”
While Davenport spent much of his career in the private sector, helping firms use technology to improve their bottom line, he has, for nearly six years, been overseeing IT for Michigan. While the process can be the same in both sectors, the outcome is very different. “When you work for a big, multi-national firm, it’s rare for you to have 10 million consumers,” he said. “In government, even small changes to IT systems can impact a large number of people.”
Like every state CTO, Davenport faces the ongoing challenge of modernizing an IT infrastructure that is laced with legacy technology. When it comes to accomplishments, what stands out is not what Davenport completed, which is impressive, but the insight and learning he passes on to his workers. Take his virtual data center: A “data center within a data center,” he called it. “The technology piece isn’t revolutionary; it’s private cloud stuff, but what makes it significant was the culture change,” said Davenport. “It became an opportunity for the technology people to get back to their roots, learn new things.”
While CTO, Davenport also wore the hat of chief information security officer for a time, and came away with a better appreciation of IT’s complexity in state government. “As CTO, you are trying to push the envelope in terms of new and emerging technologies,” he said.
But as CISO, it’s about reducing risk, so the two positions are naturally at odds. “I gained a better perspective on how to balance the need for innovative technology with the complexities of securing a large IT environment,” he said.
With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology.