The 2016 election is more than two years away, but there’s no time to waste for the California Secretary of State’s Office, which is working to modernize applications that are vital to the elections process.
In a recent interview with TechWire, CIO Chris Maio of the Secretary of State’s Office, said his staff is on pace to launch in 2016 a replacement of the state’s voter registration database and a consolidated application that automates the office’s business processes.
Maio discussed issues such as procurement and IT workforce that are keys to success.
TechWire: Many of our readers are vendors. What advice do you have for them?
Maio: They need time with us and that’s really hard. When we are in procurement, I cut off communication with the vendor community because they could be precluded from bidding on our projects. My contracts management people tell me not to entertain discussions with them, because then they can’t come to the table.
I’m a voter on these bids and we can’t afford for me not to vote because I had a conversation with somebody. So I ask that they be understanding. They have their best shot at getting time with me at places like GTC [Government Technology Conference]. I make sure that I walk the booths. It’s a public place; not a closed meeting. And I’m careful about what I say to them especially where we are in a given procurement cycle. Right now we’re not in procurement, and so I’ve been taking a couple meetings here and there. But as Cal Access gets closer, and as we near the end of the feasibility study stage, I’m going to get back in my shell again.
TechWire: You mentioned you havesome difficulty finding people whocan work on older equipment. Howare you dealing with that?
Maio: I have the need for VSAM and COBOL and CIX COBOL skills and the person I have doing it is a retiree. He’s the only guy who I know — without digging into my Dad’s cardfile — who knows COBOL that well. I treat him nicely and he’s kindly agreed to stick with us for a couple days a week, which is about as much as I need for this app. Since Business Connect is under way, we’ve kind of frozen changes to it and so he’s just doing basic admin and support. If I were to go out and recruit someone who knows this, I’d have to borrow someone from another department. We’ve recruited for that skill in the past and it just doesn’t come off the street. You end up taking from the Department of Education or Franchise Tax Board, and the other big mainframe shops. The new solution is probably going to sit on Java with an Oracle back end.
TechWire: You’ve been in state service for 25 years. What kind of advice do you have for those just beginning their careers?
Maio: I try to keep people focused on why we’re here. We aren’t here to profit, so it’s different from the private sector. I try to maintain a customer-centric focus to everything that we do. It’s hard for a programmer to tie the fact that a couple lines of code that he or she just wrote ends up affecting tens of thousands of people. So I speak in terms of customer support and I keep driving to help people understand why their work really matters.
I have a sign outside my office that says, “We make sure democracy happens.” We orchestrate the counting of the votes, and in some cases we have life and death circumstances. We have the advanced health-care directives that are run here [for making end-of-life medical decisions]. We also have the Safe at Home application program for people escaping domestic violence. So it’s very important that the staff understand it’s not just paper pushing we do around here.
This story was originally published by TechWire.