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The InnovateOhio Platform Gains Momentum, Looks Beyond 2020

The InnovateOhio Platform is posed to forever change how agencies handle services and data in Ohio. Although a lot of work still needs to be done, agency CIOs share how the platform has been critical in 2020.

The Ohio Statehouse at dawn in Columbus.
The Ohio Statehouse at dawn.
Shutterstock/Sean Pavone
Within four months of becoming governor of Ohio in 2019, Mike DeWine upended a status quo of siloed departments when he signed an executive order requiring all agencies to join the InnovateOhio Platform (IOP). 

In practical terms, the order means that departments must transition their online platforms to IOP; share data with IOP; and migrate their IT systems to a state-managed cloud.

The aggressive vision stepped on some toes. It was more than a technology change — it was a culture change. 

“We had some agencies who jumped at this opportunity,” said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, leader of the InnovateOhio initiative. “We had others who came up with every excuse for why they couldn’t do it.”

CIO Ervan Rodgers knew creating an environment of collaboration would be essential to progress. That’s why he showed people one of his “alter egos” early on. When the time came for agency introductions, Rodgers incorporated the subject of music into the discussion, asking everyone to share what tunes they had recently listened to. 

“Setting the tone from the top down is vitally critical,” Rodgers said. “If you don’t have the support from your governor or a senior leadership team, you’re going to continue to run into hurdles no matter how good the platform or product is.”

IOP in 2020

There are three pillars to IOP: user experience, digital identity and data and analytics. Essentially, Ohio doesn’t want citizens to have to navigate disparate websites, keep up with multiple login credentials and scratch their heads while looking for relevant administrative data. 

The state wants life to be easier for its agencies as well. Nate Huskey, CIO of the Ohio Department of Health (ODH), described IOP as a “tremendous godsend” for his agency’s response to COVID-19. The platform facilitated ODH’s ability to integrate data and set up a public coronavirus dashboard. It also helped ODH visualize the COVID-19 case count by geographics at and below the county level, which allowed the department to make solid decisions when it came to directing resources to local areas to combat the outbreak. 

“We would not have been able to produce either the public-facing data or internal decision supports without the partnership with the Innovate Ohio Platform,” Huskey said. 

ODH has moved all of its public websites to IOP, which has “dramatically improved” usability for citizens, Huskey said. ODH is in the process of establishing the single statewide identity piece for users. The agency is also busy with several new data initiatives. 

“In the data and analytics space, we have a ton of projects planned, and we will be putting out quite a lot of data in the future,” Huskey said. “Some of those data projects will be targeted at eligibility, improving services, making sure people have access to care. All of the great things we do in public health, we’ll be able to do those things better.”

Jason Sankey, CIO of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), said his department is focusing on “really aligning our websites to that IOP look and feel.” He believes Ohioans will benefit greatly from not having to deal with different-looking entities and having one type of experience through an all-encompassing portal. 

“The average citizen doesn’t care about the differences among agencies,” Sankey said. “They care about their experience.”

Sankey said ODJFS isn’t as far along as ODH in terms of data projects, but IOP has already assisted his agency with addressing the unemployment insurance fraud issue that has struck the country during the pandemic. ODJFS was able to leverage data analytics and tools from IOP to stop some potential fraudsters. 

“Without those tools, I don’t think we would be in a position where we would be able to do that in-depth analysis independently as an agency,” Sankey said. “We were able to migrate the data over to IOP and do some analytics quickly and detect anomalies to prevent additional losses as a result of fraud.”

2020 and Beyond

To make IOP work the best for everyone, Rodgers said it’s important for agencies to look at their data and ask a simple question, “What’s in it for me?” Rodgers believes this type of mentality is the way to ensure diverse service offerings. 

“You need to understand what piece of the big picture is yours and execute on it, because we’re all counting on it,” Rodgers said.

According to deputy CIO Katrina Flory, 15 of Ohio’s cabinet agencies are on IOP thus far, and more than a million digital identities, both internal and external, have been created. Until everyone is fully on board, the state will preach about the power of teamwork. 

“This is just not Ervan and his IT Avengers acting solo,” Rodgers said. “This is outreaching, where we’re acting as one team with one goal.”

“We had a data analytics forum this week for state agencies,” Flory said. “We continue to reach out to them to show them exactly what is possible.”

Ohio agencies are already sharing information to tackle social problems. Flory cited a six-agency data initiative to investigate factors involved in opioid addiction. More opportunities to work together are coming, Flory said. 

“Problems are complicated,” Husted said. “They require multiagency intervention, and if we’re not able to use our data in that manner, then we can’t properly serve people.”

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.