In this exclusive interview, Ervan Rodgers II describes actions from his first year as state government CIO in Ohio and shares key state technology strategies for the '20s.
When Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine was elected as the 70th governor of Ohio in November 2018, he appointed Ervan Rodgers II as the state’s chief information officer (CIO). Rodgers, who served as CIO at the Ohio Attorney General’s Office for more than four years under DeWine, began his state CIO role in January 2019.
Announcing Ervan Rodgers’ appointment at a press conference in December 2018, Governor-elect DeWine said this, “Ervan has hands-on public- and private-sector experience with digitizing core business practices, e-business, developing value-added solutions, change management and mentoring change management teams. …”
“Ervan is passionate about using data to drive solutions, and enhance the user experience," DeWine added. "He will be providing the strategic direction for the state’s IT activities, which I don’t have to tell anyone, is very, very important.”
Rodgers' career began as a project manager/team leader in Lansing, Mich., with Electronic Data Systems (EDS), which was later acquired by Hewlett-Packard. From there, Rodgers became a manager with Accenture in Detroit for almost six years.
In 2006, he moved to Columbus, Ohio, where he became the vice president over IT Service Delivery for Huntington National Bank.
He joined Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Office as deputy CIO in November 2014, before becoming the CIO of the Attorney General’s Office in April 2015.
Rodgers received a bachelor of arts in management and organizational development and leadership from Spring Arbor University in Michigan, and he is actively pursuing a master’s degree in computer science from Muskingum University.
When I first met Rodgers last year at a National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) dinner event, and I was immediately impressed with his passion, engaging personality and depth of knowledge regarding IT leadership in government regarding a wide variety of business topics. In addition to our common experiences in mid-Michigan (where Ervan grew-up and where I currently call home), we share a love of Big Ten sports — even though he now cheers for The Ohio State University.
You can gain a sense of Rodgers’ personality and expertise in this video from the ComSpark Tech Summit last year.
Exclusive Interview Between Dan Lohrmann and Ohio CIO Ervan Rodgers II
Ohio CIO Ervan Rodgers II
Dan Lohrmann (DL) — You came into this CIO role with plenty of technology leadership experience, but what have been some of the biggest challenges/surprises leading enterprise technology in Ohio Government?
Ervan Rodgers II (ER) — Coming into the State CIO role, I knew I wanted to create a work environment that would be contagious and catch on like wildfire in terms of collaboration. In order to get the ball rolling, I worked with my leadership team Katrina Flory (Deputy State CIO), Kristina Hagberg (CTO), Mark Smith (COO) and Anupuam Srivastava (State CISO), within the first few weeks to meet with many of our State of Ohio IT colleagues. I wanted to understand what was top of mind for them and gain further insights into the organization. What was surprising for me is that everyone essentially wanted the same thing, which was to make Ohio better for our taxpayers using technology innovation. I gladly accepted the challenge and together through collaboration, each day we are making a difference within State government, and that makes Ohio better a better place for all taxpayers and businesses looking to invest in Ohio.
DL — What are you most proud of in your first year as Ohio’s CIO? Any related stories you can share?
ER — This first year has been an incredible experience! I am honored and excited to have the opportunity to continue building out our strategy as we head into 2020 with my stellar team and partners! As more and more IT solutions become cloud enabled, our CloudSmart initiative is one of the grass-roots efforts that I am most excited about, as it signals the future for our workforce. We’ve had two classes to date with over 100 attendees from 18 agencies. We’ve collaborated with our leading cloud vendors to provide training to help with retooling our workforce. We’ve even added an opportunity for each colleague who takes the class to complete a certification exam. We have officially retired CloudFirst and are moving gracefully and thoughtfully into CloudSmart by leveraging not only leading cloud providers, but also ensuring we have a great balance of private state cloud offerings as well.
DL — As we head into 2020, what are Ohio’s top government technology priority projects?
ER — IT Innovation in partnership with Lt. Gov. Jon Husted’s InnovateOhio Office continues to be one of our top five initiatives from a technology perspective. We are looking to expand our offering with the upcoming release of an Emerging Technology RFP, which will generate a list of prequalified vendors for various categories (think machine learning, AI, RPAs [robotic process automation], blockchain) that will carry us into the future for many generations to come. The CloudSmart initiative will continue to evolve as we strategically evaluate the landscape of providers. Lastly, effective shared services for the enterprise continues to be a focus, as innovation also comes in the form of stability.
DL — How are you approaching cybersecurity at an enterprise level? Any significant new projects in the cyber area?
ER — Cybersecurity is a team sport in which all levels of government must work collaboratively together to play not only defense, but offense as well. Recently, the Ohio Department of Administrative Services Office of Information Security and Privacy hosted a Cybersecurity Workshop in partnership with the National Governors Association, CyberOhio (an InnovateOhio Initiative), the Ohio National Guard and Ohio Homeland Security. The workshop was provided at no cost and geared for Ohio local government leaders with a focus on various security frameworks. The workshop focused on implementation of controls that CIS recommends for stopping 85 percent of cybersecurity threats. We are fortunate that top executives in Ohio — Gov. DeWine and DAS Director Matt Damschroder — understand and embrace the importance of cybersecurity. CyberOhio was a key initiative for DeWine when he was Ohio attorney general, and Director Damschroder has significant experience in this space in his prior role at the Secretary of State’s Office.
DL — You communicate closely with your Ohio governor, Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and the other cabinet members in the state. How does that interaction work on a regular basis? Do you test cyber-response to statewide incidents?
ER — The DeWine-Husted administration considers technology a critical asset for innovating Ohio. I attend the governor’s cabinet meetings on a regular basis with an intent to strategically enable technology for the enterprise. Through collaboration at all levels of government, we can address cyber-response and ensure statewide response capability test statewide incidents.
DL — When you think about IoT, AI, 5G, autonomous vehicles and other new innovative areas, what new areas of technology do you see making the biggest impact over the next few areas in Ohio government? What excites you most?
ER — Ohio is in the process of building for the future with next-generational innovation. We collaborate with state and local governments with a focus on a common vision to attract the automotive industry. Ohio is looking to expand our autonomous vehicle development by establishing a statewide Information Data Exchange (IDE).
DL — You are an active member in NASCIO, how do you see your challenges in Ohio in relation to other states?
ER — NASCIO has become one of my greatest assets for their research, state-to-state peer networking and exchange of great ideas. At its foundation, collaboration is a natural byproduct that helps elevate the entire nation. If you combine the various perspectives, you’ll have a winning combination for you and your state. I’m looking forward at continuing to expand my NASCIO network of friends at the next summit for the win! OH-IO!
DL — I want to thank Ervan for taking the time for this interview. I encourage readers who want to know more about the InnovateOhio Program to also read this interview from John Thomas Flynn from the Federal News Network.
I like this fun quote from that interview: “Early in his tenure during a team building exercise, he decided it would add more creativity and be more collaborative with some music. And as a professional DJ in addition to being state CIO, Rodgers was right at home. Playing hits from the 1970s to 1990s, he asked attendees to talk about their favorite songs and playlists. He emphasized, though, that this exercise was not just frivolous.
“It really gave us the opportunity — I kid you not — it gave us the opportunity to basically come up with more than 300 shovel-ready ideas that we could leverage across multiple state agencies.”
Doug Robinson, the executive director of NASCIO, recently reported that approximately 50 percent of the CIOs within state governments and U.S. territories were new to their leadership roles within the past 15 months. This is an extraordinary statistic, and one major outcome after the U.S. gubernatorial elections in 2018.
Nevertheless, many of these new CIOs come to their state CIO roles with extensive leadership experience, new innovative ideas and refreshing (sometimes even fun) approaches to public service.
In 2019, Ervan Rodgers II showed that he is one of the new state CIOs who ability, passion, thoughtful plans and a mission to dramatically improve Ohio state government. After his first year as state CIO, I am impressed by his leadership style and his team’s IT vision in Ohio.