For the last six years, James Collins has been one of the most respected leaders in state IT. In a couple of weeks, he will finally step down from his role as Delaware’s chief information officer.
When Delaware Chief Information Officer James Collins moves on from his post in the middle of this month, he will leave behind a formidable legacy. A press release announced today that Collins has taken a job with Microsoft Consulting.
Collins’ qualifications for his new role are many. He spearheaded a comprehensive cybersecurity modernization effort in Delaware. He oversaw the unveiling of the state’s open data portal. He provided leadership for the Rural Wireless Broadband Initiative, which will wrap up the construction of 15 towers for connectivity ahead of schedule this year.
Collins is also a former National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) president and was one of Government Technology’s Top 25 Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers in 2018.
When asked about his proudest accomplishment in the role, Collins had difficulty pinning down a single thing. He loved creating a cybersecurity coalition, which stretched across areas as diverse as finance, health care and utilities. He’s also happy to know that kids who didn’t have Internet connections at home can now be connected as part of Delaware’s wireless broadband project.
Perhaps more than anything, he said that he helped Delaware change its approach to technology.
“I think historically, and correctly, we kind of started with the infrastructure and the network and made sure we have resilience and disaster recovery and security, and all of those are important,” Collins said. “But we have tried to change our focus by starting with the end user. What do we need to do to meet the citizens where they are? What do we need to do for our workers who are remote?”
Collins’ advocacy for IT is particularly noteworthy in light of COVID-19. He is not just proud of how his team helped government continue to provide services in an unprecedented context. He wants to see IT workers included on the list of essential workers.
“I certainly agree with the billboards and the signs thanking essential workers,” Collins remarked. “When we dial 911, we need people to show up … [and] I love going to the mailbox every day to see that there’s a new surprise for me. But I think that we need to pay attention and make sure IT people get pretty high on that [essential workers] list.”
The imprint of Collins in government IT goes beyond his tenure as Delaware’s CIO. He has roughly 20 years of service in Delaware. His exposure to tech really kicked off when he was a deputy administrator for Fleet Services in the state.
“My first job was to find a system to manage the fleet and get it implemented, which scared the heck out of me because I didn’t have a lot of technology background,” Collins recalled.
Later in his career, Collins served as director of the Delaware Division of Professional Regulation for a decade. He likes to say that he took that division from “the manila folder age to the information age,” as he overhauled the agency’s practices through process standardization, automation and improved communications.
During his time in Professional Regulation, Collins played a significant role in fixing a system that failed to prevent the sexual abuse of child patients. In 2010, pediatrician Earl Bradley was indicted for molesting 103 children between 1998 and 2009. Collins personally worked on legislation that said if a child must be disrobed for examination, a parent or guardian must be present.
“We were really able to work closely with the AG’s office and the Legislature’s office to figure out the gaps that allowed that predator to persist and victimize children,” Collins said.
Collins showed a commitment to human dignity throughout his time in Delaware. As deputy secretary of state, he worked to improve the operations of the state’s Veterans Home. In his words, one of his most important duties was making sure the facilities were “the very best for my comrades.” Collins served in the U.S. Air Force for more than eight years.
As for his new role with Microsoft, he said the management job will allow him to do a lot of things he did for Delaware on a national level.
“As [Liam Neeson] said in the movie ‘Taken,’” Collins stated with a laugh, “I have a ‘very particular set of skills’ to bring to Microsoft to help make them a stronger partner for state and local government and higher education.”
For his new journey, Collins will remember everything he did with technology in Delaware. He will also never forget the individuals he collaborated with.
“I have deep relationships with a lot of people who are so committed to life in Delaware continuing to improve,” Collins said. “It makes today a tough day.”
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