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Massachusetts CIO Bill Oates Carries Innovation Culture to the Commonwealth

The former Boston CIO says he hopes to bring his open and collaborative style to his new position as CIO of the state.

by / January 23, 2014
Bill Oates, CIO, Massachusetts e.Republic/David Kidd

After more than seven years as Boston’s CIO, Bill Oates was chosen in December to oversee technology for the whole of Massachusetts, beginning his role as state CIO on Jan. 13.

Oates is confident in his interim replacement in Boston, Justin Holmes, the city’s director of constituent engagement. He's a good manager, and a proactive and innovative guy, Oates said, noting that he can move to the state while "the vision for what we’re doing with technology in the city will continue,” he said. “I think Mayor [Marty] Walsh has embraced it. Boston is in a great place and in my view, they’ll continue to be leaders in innovation and collaborating with other cities, and taking what we started there to the next level.”

Massachusetts CIO Bill Oates has been recognized by Government Technology for his achievements as Boston’s CIO on more than one occasion, including honors as one of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers in 2011 for his strides in cutting down government barriers to innovate and improve citizen engagement. 

Oates won’t be going far though, and he said he looks forward to continuing to work with Boston in his new role, and as he takes on several ongoing projects started by former state CIO John Letchford, who stepped down in December to take a position as a senior IT strategist at Tufts University.

One of the first orders of business since his appointment, Oates said, is recruiting new talent to fill the gaps left by recent changes in senior management. He also will continue work on some of the state’s bigger projects. The main focus areas in the near future, he said, include IT workforce modernization and IT procurement.

“And like in Boston, we’re looking to create a culture of innovation in the commonwealth, enabled by IT tools,” Oates said. “I’m excited about the opportunity, and I think I have a great opportunity to do things with municipalities around the commonwealth.”

Having seven years’ experience as a government CIO in Boston has allowed Oates to hit the ground running, although he says there are some differences in the state compared to Boston, such as the size of the organization and the size of the business units. But he predicts that his connections and familiarity with government should make the transition fairly easy.

Today’s main trends of mobility, social media, cloud computing and big data are all major assets that any organization hoping to succeed needs to embrace, and they will do just that in the state, Oates said.

“I think it’s important that government IT organizations like mine in Boston and now here in the commonwealth make sure that we’re taking advantage of the changes and the improvements that are happening in that space," he said, "and part of that probably ties into some of those big picture challenges that we have."

Having a strong leader is very important in any organization, Oates said – if a leader is static, then the organization will be static, too. If a leader is innovative, he said, the organization will follow suit.

Oates characterized his own leadership style as embodying passion about technology, persistence in meeting his organization’s goals, and being open and collaborative with anyone who’s willing. “I am very passionate about what we do and what I mean by that is that we need to deliver great services to our constituency,” he said, adding the important role of technology in advancing the missions of the business unit.

Persistence means knowing how to navigate around government mud, he said. “You’re going to run into obstacles and lots of different challenges that are going to distract or disrupt what you’re trying to do," he said, "and you just have to stay with it."

Also important is collaborating with anyone who has skills and resources they’re willing to share, he said, and in his case that includes the governor’s cabinet, his fellow G7 cities, and other friends of the state.

“My vision is nobody can do this stuff on their own,” Oates said. “The only way we’re really going to change government is if we take our anecdotes of collaboration and turn it into something much bigger, so that we truly are sharing our resources across government jurisdictions more effectively than we do today.”

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Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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