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Oregon CIO Terrence Woods Discusses State’s Top Priorities

Woods listed cybersecurity, the modernization of legacy systems and increasing Internet speeds for the state’s many agency locations as top priorities after moving from acting to permanent CIO.

Terrence Woods grew up in Salem, Ore., the state’s capital, and now after being tapped by the governor earlier this month to move from acting to permanent CIO, Woods will be leading the state's public-sector tech efforts in his hometown for the foreseeable future.

Oregon is like many other states, with a CIO tasked with overseeing government-wide IT and innovation efforts. The state has 1,300 IT employees spread throughout 100 agencies, boards and commissions, and in last year the state also spent more than $750 million on contracted IT services. As such, he recently made some time to discuss a few of Oregon’s top tech priorities with Government Technology, including cybersecurity, modernizing legacy systems and increasing connectivity for the 600-plus public agency locations spread throughout the state.

Modernization in particular stands to be an ongoing issue for Oregon, as it is for most states in the country. In fact, a strategic plan from Gov. Kate Brown’s office in September stressed the point often, noting that “numerous systems, including ones used by the Department of Corrections, use software that runs on 30-year-old green screens.”

Woods also emphasized the importance of modernization work for state agencies, pointing to two issues that make it a pressing concern, even in instances where aging systems are stable. These concerns are common ones in the public sector, with the first being that the legacy systems use obsolete languages like COBOL. The public servants who know how to operate them are retiring, while younger members of the workforce have no way of learning those skills. The second reason for modernization is simple: There are better and more efficient systems available for the work.

In terms of cybersecurity, Woods said he expects to take a holistic approach that will involve coordinating with other levels of government — cities and counties — as well as federal agencies and other states. He compared it to a viral outbreak for traditional health, noting that when such a thing occurs, public agencies of all levels work together to stem the spread. Cybersecurity threats can be approached much the same way. Making that easier for Oregon now is a centralization that its office of the CIO underwent in 2015 following legislative action. A subsequent executive order from the governor in 2017 required the unification of IT security functions even further.

That recent centralization of IT work in Oregon has bolstered the CIO’s job as one of providing shared services, especially as it applies to work related to GIS and data-driven decisions. To that end, Woods is working now to hire a chief data officer (CDO), the first for the state. CDOs are becoming increasingly prevalent at the state level, and Oregon will be joining a growing list of states to add one or an equivalent position, including Connecticut, Colorado and Utah among others.

“We’re rich with data, but we haven’t gotten as far as we'd like around business analytics and some of those things,” Woods said. “This is a new role for the state of Oregon, it’s a new program, and there’s going to be a lot of collaborative work between state agencies and the new CDO. I’m really looking forward to the person starting next month and working with agencies on using data as an asset.”    

Woods is certainly up for the job. A veteran of Oregon’s state government, he has previously served as the CIO and administrative services administrator for the Department of Revenue, the chair of the state CIO Council, director of IT for the Oregon Health Authority and deputy CIO for its Department of Human Services. He became interim CIO for Oregon earlier this year after former CIO Alex Pettit resigned in April.

“While certainly there is work to do, I’m really excited to get to work for the state I love, with agencies with great missions,” Woods said, “and to be able to do it in the town I great up in I think is pretty neat.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.