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How New Governors in Utah and Montana Could Impact State IT

Although the 2020 election only brought two new governors into power, both Spencer Cox (Utah) and Greg Gianforte (Montana) could influence the role of IT and their state CIOs in interesting ways.

Utah State Capitol
Utah State Capitol
Government Technology/Eyragon Eidam
Incumbents won the majority of this year’s 11 gubernatorial races. However, November 2020 did see the rise of two new governors, Spencer Cox in Utah and Greg Gianforte in Montana, both of whom have strong ties to technology. 

The change in leadership for these two states may present interesting opportunities for their respective CIOs. But how? Let’s take a look at the tech backgrounds of Cox and Gianforte. 

Spencer Cox

Formerly the lieutenant governor of Utah, Cox was trained in law, but throughout his career, he has maintained a close relationship with tech. According to Cox’s LinkedIn page, he started his career as vice president and general counsel of CentraCom Interactive, a telecommunications company that provides various services in Utah. 

In an article explaining why he chose to run for governor, Cox mentions that his family has been running CentraCom for over a century in the rural county of Sanpete. Cox should thus have intimate knowledge of some of the challenges involved with closing the digital divide. Internet access has been one of the biggest issues in 2020 due to the pandemic, so it’s not unthinkable that the CIO under Cox may be tasked with new broadband-related projects. 

Related to broadband is telecommuting. In 2019, well before the pandemic, Cox was a key leader of Utah’s telework program for state employees. In the same year, Cox talked about what remote work options can mean for citizens working in the private sector. 

“I think it’s a great direction to go because it’s really a share of the wealth type of idea,” Cox said, according to the Cache Valley Daily. “I feel like not everyone can move to the Wasatch Front, and not everyone wants to move to the Wasatch Front.”

It seems logical to conclude that telework will remain a top priority for Utah’s CIO while Cox is governor. 

Public-private partnerships with tech companies will likely be another focus for Utah IT with the Cox administration. During the Utah Innovation Technology Summit in 2018, Cox said that while tech entrepreneurs are often turned off by the slow pace of government, he believes officials need the voices of the tech community “more than ever.” Cox suggested that the Utah Legislature could set aside money for “Shark Tank-style innovation,” where tech companies with the best ideas can help implement pilot programs that, if successful, could be expanded. 

Cox also thinks the tech industry can allow government to tap into the potential of administrative data, which could have implications for IT services. 

“One of the things that government is good at is collecting data,” Cox said at the summit. “We have a lot of information. What we’re not good at is using that data in ways that are innovative and improve what government does. One of the things that I would like to see us do as a state and counties and cities is to carefully and respectfully open up that data to entrepreneurs who can then take that, synergize it, and use it.”

In Utah, CIO Mike Hussey has held the top IT position since 2015. It seems unlikely that Cox's elevation to the Governor's Office would signal a change for Hussey.

Greg Gianforte

With his win in November, Gianforte, a Republican, flipped the governorship in Montana from blue to red. It is unknown who will be Montana’s CIO under this new administration, but one would think that Gianforte, as a former leader of a successful tech company, will be very interested in opportunities to advance Montana IT. 

In 1997, Gianforte founded RightNow Technologies, which was bought by Oracle for $1.8 billion in 2011. As told by the Independent Record, RightNow “pioneered the concept of ‘cloud computing,’ in which a software developer, rather than giving software to its customers for them to run, operates that software itself, for the customer firm, on its own computers and data centers.” According to Fast Company, RightNow’s success made Montana’s economy more tech-driven. 

Because Gianforte was working with the cloud before it was even called that, it seems possible that his CIO will continue taking advantage of cloud computing for customer service. In 2017, Montana started consolidating its executive-level infrastructure through “a true private cloud approach.” 

In the past, Gianforte has donated money to Montana State University to bolster computer science education. He has said that he wants to keep workforce with computer skills within the state of Montana. 

Could this mean that Gianforte would favor expanding the state’s IT recruiting efforts? In an interview with Government Technology, CIO Tim Bottenfield noted that the idea of recruiting more remote workers hadn’t made it to an “administrative level” yet and that an administration change would factor heavily into what the state does on this front.  

According to the Associated Press, Gianforte’s plan for Montana includes a focus on “encouraging high tech growth.” Depending on how Gianforte delegates activities, the new state CIO could play a role in fostering relationships with tech companies. 

Jed Pressgrove has been a writer and editor for about 15 years. He received a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in sociology from Mississippi State University.