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Washington State CIO Leading Agencies on New Path

Former Microsoft software engineer Bharat Shyam is modernizing Washington state’s technology investments and priorities.

by / June 18, 2012

Bharat Shyam walked into a turbulent situation last year when he took the job as Washington state’s CIO. The state’s information services agency had been replaced by three different technology-related departments and a controversial new data center stood mostly unoccupied.

But thanks to a detailed strategic plan and a little patience, Shyam is addressing the Evergreen State’s technology woes.

In February, Shyam’s office released a strategy document that laid out a modernization path for Washington state’s computing investments. From emphasizing employee accountability to embracing software as a service, Shyam outlined a series of goals centered on short-term fixes and long-term changes that he believes will improve and fortify the state’s technology presence.

Cloud adoption is one of the areas Shyam believes Washington is beginning to make strides in. Although not yet in widespread use, some agencies are dabbling with cloud services where appropriate. For example, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife is testing a cloud-based application that allows employees to inspect and take photos of whatever animal is being caught, killed or hunted. The application is GPS-enabled, and the data is uploaded to a website.

The state is also examining cloud-based email.

“We are actively looking at Microsoft Office 365 as a solution for our email, and I will very likely have some of our agencies on it,” said Shyam, who spent 18 years working for Microsoft Corp. He added that he’s kept a close watch on Minnesota’s move to the platform this year. “[But] we have not signed a contract yet.”

Although movement on various fronts is happening, Shyam said baby steps are necessary before making any firm commitments. For example, Shyam revealed that Washington state doesn’t yet have a mobile strategy or management infrastructure, and thus can’t support the bring-your-own-device philosophy that’s becoming more common in the public sector.

“I am a firm believer that we have to experiment before you make bets,” Shyam said, regarding investment in new technology.

The state is also continuing to populate its new data center and office complex. Located in Olympia, Wash., the $255 million project features 55,000 square feet of data center floor space. The project was hammered last year by legislators and watchdog groups after a report claimed that only 4,000 feet of space was actually needed by the state.

The office building portion of the complex is functioning, but the data center still isn’t live. Shyam admitted that there were issues plaguing the project. He explained the state built out more data center space than was necessary, due to a lack of awareness about the way virtualization increases density and decreases the need for physical space.

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Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.

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