California IT Leaders Share Strategies, Lessons Learned

During the 2019 California Public Sector CIO Academy in Sacramento, technology leaders gathered to discuss the future and how best to transform citizen-facing services.

by / February 26, 2019
California CIO Amy Tong Government Technology/Lucas Ropek

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Information technology leaders descended on the capital city this week to share ideas and strategies during the 2019 California Public Sector CIO Academy.

California CIO Amy Tong gave opening remarks at the two-day event and touted the state's IT achievements over the past year, while also looking to the future for change. "2018 was a very productive year," she said. "2019 is going to be another exciting year."

During the past 12 months, the CIO noted, the state has seen a number of successes. One was its ranking in the Center for Digital Government's* Digital States Survey, which evaluates states’ use of IT to deliver services. After 10 years of California receiving a B+ grade in the national survey, the Golden State finally broke through into the A- category this past year. "We're finally getting to the A category," Tong said proudly. 

Looking ahead, the CIO said that under new Gov. Gavin Newsom, things were likely to further improve for state IT. "He has great, exciting ideas," she said.

Among the things Newsom has promised is an Office of Digital Innovation. The office would operate within the Government Operations Agency (GovOps), employ 50 people and command an initial startup budget of $36.2 million. It would have an annual budget of $14.6 million.

Similarly, an information security and privacy road map is set to be developed by the Information Security Office during the first quarter of 2019 — a win for state residents, Tong said. 

"We need to continue to transform government, and that requires strong leadership from the CIOs, from upcoming CIOs and from everyone of you who is involved in that transformation," she said. 

The breakout sessions for Monday's event were diverse, but focused on that spirit of innovation —everything from enhanced negotiation tactics and unconscious bias training to seminars on the power of emotional intelligence and effective communication. 

In one session, CIOs discussed the art of the "blameless post mortem" — a way for managers to avoid pointing fingers at employees when projects go awry. 

Subbarao Mupparaju, CIO for the Financial Information System of California (FI$Cal), said during the session that complex IT systems will inevitably have problems, and how leaders choose to handle these crises can have a deep impact on the larger organization. 

Frequently, when problems arise, managers are unnecessarily punitive with their staff, when they should really be focusing on addressing root causes and crafting improvements, he said.  

Other sessions were similarly focused on how to see challenges and their potential solutions from fresh vantage points. In a session titled Leading Digital Government Transformation, a panel of CIOs discussed how IT can bring change to the public sector and the state’s citizens. 

Gary Buonacorsi, chief technology officer for state and local government at Dell EMC, said government could better its services by transforming how its workers function.

"Government, overall, state and local, has been slow to adopt the move to a digital workforce," he said, adding that workforce transformation is crucial to making changes to government operations.

Scott Gregory, chief of the Office of Digital Innovation in the California Department of Technology, said the way he sees transformation is as “a reinvention of how we as government begin to relate to the people that we serve.” 

Matt Schueller, the state’s chief deputy director for the Health and Human Services Agency's Office of Systems Integration, said that he felt that government had “ground to make up” in terms of effectively delivering services to the public. Transformation, he said, was how officials could get to the level they needed to be to effectively serve citizens.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

Lucas Ropek Staff Writer

Lucas Ropek is a staff writer for Government Technology. He has worked as a newspaper reporter and writer in Massachusetts and New York. He received his Bachelor's degree in English from Kenyon College in Ohio. He lives in Northern California.