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Alaska Adds Innovation Officer to Its Ranks

The state wants to use the position to produce greater engagement and outcomes while developing new ideas for using technology.

The state of Alaska has created the position of innovation officer to help it achieve greater engagement and outcomes for its residents and businesses, according to Bill Vajda, Alaska's CIO.

Jason Schneider, who started working in May for Alaska’s Office of Information Technology, has been appointed to the position. He joins a growing cadre of innovation officers who are working for state and local governments to explore and guide new opportunities with IT. The city of Anchorage, Alaska, for example, added its innovation officer Brendan Babb two years ago to study the ways the city government consumes data and technology to deliver its services, according to an Anchorage Daily News report.
Schneider, who will report to one of the five chief technology officers in Vajda’s OIT agency, is tasked with the role of helping the state assist its citizens and businesses with current technology as well as to lead and foster innovation in government service delivery.

“Most government IT is focused on tinkering, owning and operating IT,” Vajda said. “But now, there is a shift in government to move from tinkering to a connecting culture.”

Those connections between the state and its citizens and businesses will be reached by finding new ways to analyze volumes of data the government collects to using analytics and artificial intelligence to deliver services.

Schneider’s eclectic set of work skills made him well suited for the role of innovation officer, according to Vajda. Schneider, a former general manager of e-commerce company MIUpperHand, also served in the Peace Corps in Tonga where he gained experience supporting and advocating for communities. He also served as a city commissioner for the city of Marquette, Mich. Most recently, Schneider was the founding executive director for the Marquette Chamber of Commerce.

The measure of success for this role will, in part, be based on the state’s ability to innovate so that it meets the expectations of its citizens and businesses. For example, Vajda notes the 18-year-olds who will be voting in this fall’s elections have no memory of what life was like pre-Internet and so their expectations of government services may be vastly different than what is currently offered.

“These 18-year-olds’ opinions are formulated by Amazon, eBay … speaking into a box to order a pizza,” said Vajda. “We don’t use artificial intelligence to interface with constituents, so meeting expectations like those is a challenge for the Office of Information Technology. We are working to catch up to what is out there today.”

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