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Conversation with a CIO: Montana's Ron Baldwin Talks Affordable, Enterprise IT

Since taking the top technology spot in Montana, Baldwin has focused heavily on connecting agencies to enterprise resources and bridging the gaps between state silos.

In a new series, Government Technology is looking for insights from IT decision-makers on the opportunities and issues facing their respective jurisdictions. Each week, our staff aims to catch up with a state or local government CIO to discuss trending topics, particular pain points and initiatives geared to improve public-sector IT.

This week, we talked with Montana’s State Information Technology Service Division (SITSD) CIO Ron Baldwin, who was appointed by Gov. Steve Bullock in January 2013. Since taking the top technology spot, Baldwin has been focused on connecting agencies to enterprise resources and bridging the gaps between state silos.
Tell us about some of Montana's IT priorities right now.
Essentially, what we are trying to do is build enterprise information technology to support the state of Montana delivering enterprise-level services to the citizens that cross boundaries, break through siloes, and are delivered irrespective of an agency or its programs or systems. It would be an enterprise technology that is used to share information and platforms and systems that actually work together to deliver critical or otherwise helpful information to Montana citizens.
An example is something Gov. Steve Bullock is actually taking around the state right now: The Montana Navigator allows businesses to look up what the permits and regulations are for their type of business to do business in the state of Montana. Whether you want to open up a mining operation, a restaurant or convenience store, there is a variety of permits and regulations. This business navigator actually helps a new business. This is part of the governor’s Main Street Initiative to build a healthy business climate here in Montana. [Business owners] will be able to figure out what is needed to comply with laws, regulation and permitting for different businesses, as opposed to having to pick up the phone, figure this out, hire a lawyer, call a dozen different agencies; they can go to this business navigator and get a checklist of those things they need to actually do.
We’re looking at things through the lens of the enterprise: What should we be doing to help citizens where there is a lot of information that needs to be made available across these governmental boundaries? We’re entering an era where we are using technology and a heightened level of collaboration to bring data, information and services more comprehensively and more quickly to citizens.
Consolidating information and systems can be a challenge, especially across state agencies. How is Montana working to bridge gaps, break down siloes and build effective enterprise solutions?
That’s a great question, and actually it’s pretty easy to answer. The way it’s being addressed in Montana is by the governor. It starts at the top, at the cabinet level, where we are talking not about our individual departments, programs and issues when we gather together to update the governor. We’re really talking about initiatives that are cross-cutting. One of the governor’s key initiatives is effective government, and one of the ways you make government effective is to try to break these barriers down. The governor made that very clear right out of the gate.
In your role as state CIO, where do you fall on the spectrum of being technologist and being an ambassador for your agency? 
I think it’s very much a hybrid. I describe the era that we are in as, or my role, as not just about information technology anymore; it really transcends that. It’s about how we are going to do government, if you will, in the digital age. How are we going to adapt and even leverage the digital age, where things are changing at an exponential pace? We have a large majority of citizens carrying around smartphones with data plans. We think about delivering not just public-facing aspects of our systems and websites, but also about deploying mobile apps and responsive Web design.

Looking to the future of the state from a technology standpoint, which initiatives are most crucial and what are you pushing right now?
What I’m pushing right now is how to address the cost of information technology. There is a need, and actually now a dependency, on information technology. Information technology costs a lot of money, so how do we keep innovating and providing all of the things I discussed while containing the costs? That involves collaboration. It involves creating shared enterprise platforms, whether you are the Department of Agriculture or Livestock or the great big Department of Public Health and Human Services. Everybody gets to enjoy the same level of innovation and the same level of protections that we need.
The governor and I are taking significant actions when it comes to cybersecurity and we are making sure that our environment here in the state of Montana is as resilient as possible. To do that we have to collaborate, so we are doing that at a governance level and we’re doing it at a technology level. At the governance level, it is being done with a new council that the governor formed last year called the MISAC, which is the Montana Information Security Council, a multijurisdictional council composed of state and local government agencies, private company interests and also legislators.
Eyragon Eidam is the managing editor for Industry Insider — California. He previously served as the daily news editor for Government Technology. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.