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Bill Smith

CIO, Alaska

Alaska CIO Bill Smith 2024.jpg
Government Technology/David Kidd
Bill Smith was named CIO of Alaska in 2019 following a string of interim leaders, bringing needed stability to the state’s technology efforts. In fact, Smith is only the second person to ever hold the CIO title in the Last Frontier state. Alaska’s massive size and geographic complexity make his nearly five-year tenure — already quite a bit longer than the average state CIO — noteworthy.

Growing up in a military family, Smith followed that path with his own career too. But a three-year stop in Alaska along the way convinced him and his wife to return there following his military service. They view the state as their “adopted home.”

Lured from the private sector to the state, Smith viewed the CIO job as another opportunity for mission-driven work. “I just really have always been drawn to being able to draw a direct connection between what I’m doing and some sort of greater benefit,” he said. This was also true when he worked for a communications company to enable telehealth for rural communities. “It was cool that we could connect long distances, but what it was being used for is what mattered to me.”

The pandemic struck mere months into Smith’s tenure, which helped expedite Alaska’s move toward cloud technologies that enabled state employees to collaborate in new ways. Those investments also helped reduce a lot of technical debt and opened the minds of cloud skeptics to its capabilities. Today, Alaska has more than 1,000 applications in the cloud, with more on the way. At the same time, the state has advanced leaps and bounds when it comes to its cybersecurity posture.

Smith is quick to compliment the dedication and talent of his IT workforce. And while there are good reasons for a cautious default stance in government, Smith has focused on empowering his people to pursue new ideas. Not every idea works, but he still gives credit for trying, rewarding initiative that has the net effect of moving the state forward. One such idea came from a long-term employee whose quick thinking allowed Alaska to expand network access tenfold in about a week during the pandemic.

“Trying to get people to have that kind of initiative has been important to me and it’s really paid off, I think.”

This story originally appeared in the May/June 2024 issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to read the full digital edition online.