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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

Logistics and staffing changes in the centralized computing environment have to be worked out before the power is switched on, Shyam said. The state expects to light up its data center at some point in 2012, he said.

Private Versus Public

According to a statement from Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire last year, Shyam’s last position with the software provider was as general manager of Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform. Before that, he was a software engineer for the company, working on both the Windows operating system and Internet Explorer Web browser.

With that long history in the private sector, Shyam said he expected to find a completely different organizational structure and work culture when he went to work for the state. He was surprised, however, to find that culture was the more familiar aspect of his new surroundings.

The biggest differences, he said, were getting used to even the smallest meetings becoming public information and the shift in responsibility.

“I went from being a person who spent their entire career building products and services to someone whose primary responsibility is to buy the right products, so this is different than product development and IT,” Shyam said.

“So the diversity of what someone in a large IT organization role has to think about was a big revelation for me in terms of how much is going on everywhere,” he added.

One thing Shyam said he’d like to improve is the education and training of the state’s IT personnel. He explained that in the private sector an emphasis is placed on staying on top of the newest technology developments and enhancing an employee’s knowledge.

But over the past seven months, Shyam said he’s observed that isn’t as great of a push for IT training in the public sector. Even though technology budgets are continuing to be cut, Shyam argued that public IT employees need to be as current as their private-sector peers on the latest trends and developments.

He said there should be a couple of conferences each year that his team members get to attend in order to stay in-tune with what’s happening in the private sector.

“I personally find that this is such a sensitive issue that I will go to all the conferences completely on my own and not charge the state a single dime. But I can’t expect that from all our IT managers,” Shyam said. “That is a major concern — and I don’t know how to make the case and lead the way in front of the citizenry so they don’t take it as government employees ‘living it up.’”

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Brian Heaton

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

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