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Tarek Tomes

Commissioner and CIO, Minnesota IT Services

Minnesota CIO Tarek Tomes
David Kidd/Government Technology
The exponential growth of digital services in government during the pandemic has some big numbers attached to it in Minnesota. As of last October, Minnesota IT Commissioner and state Chief Information Officer Tarek Tomes reported that there were 47 million logins to the state’s unemployment insurance system, 1.6 million residents opted in to COVID-19 exposure alerts, 90,000 people had downloaded a digital vaccine record and emergency food benefits were distributed to 265,000 kids. These stats validate a couple of Tomes’ agency’s guiding principles: to view and approach technology with empathy and focus on the customer.

Tomes pairs this customer-centric approach with the deep technical knowledge essential for a state CIO. Prior to assuming his current position in April 2019, Tomes worked for several years in local government, preceded by private-sector work in which he led complex initiatives on a massive scale. But he was drawn to the “intimacy” of government work, in which technology could bring tangible outcomes in your own community. The move to the state multiplied Tomes’ responsibilities, but he leans on his IT knowledge and understanding, serving as a “relentless advocate” for how technology can help government fulfill its mission.

He offered a recent example of this, in which the state used a new collaboration tool to conduct a town hall meeting. A departure from platforms his team had previously used, some were a bit reluctant to try something new with minimal lead time. Tomes inspired confidence in his staff, communicating faith in their ability to make it a success. “The team did phenomenally … I mean they knocked it out of the park,” he said. “Having a technical background can be really beneficial for helping to shape the art of the possible.”

Tomes was named CIO amid a high-profile vehicle registration project that was ultimately rebid and rebuilt. Launched successfully last fall, Tomes credits communication and collaboration with a talented, multi-agency team for pulling it over the finish line. This respect and admiration for the people he works with radiates through everything Tomes talks about. “We have just an unbelievably incredible, diverse leadership team that really, really cares. And that’s what makes the magic happen.”
Noelle Knell has been the editor of Government Technology magazine for e.Republic since 2015. She has more than two decades of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.