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Georgia CIO Shawnzia Thomas Looks to Keep IT Momentum in 2024

With a new year underway, Georgia Technology Authority CIO Shawnzia Thomas is focused on keeping the pace the agency set in 2023. New technologies and initiatives promise to enhance citizen services and how the state does business.

Shawnzia Thomas Georgia CIO.
Government Technology/David Kidd
2023 saw a shift in Georgia’s technology landscape with officials there honing their commitment to citizen-centric innovation and data modernization.

As Georgia Technology Authority CIO Shawnzia Thomas recently shared with Government Technology, that push will only intensify in 2024. The CIO says that her key priorities this year include cloud platform expansion, innovative citizen-focused service platforms, the implementation of emerging technologies and a strong commitment to digital equity.

Georgia’s award-winning GovHub platform is at the forefront of its comprehensive service approach, playing a central role in delivering a consistent experience across state agencies.

“We host about 90 websites through GovHub, so we’re making it easier for constituents to access agencies and their services in one place,” Thomas explained. “We’re focusing on accessibility, which means making sure that anyone, no matter who you are, has those services available to you.”

Cloud technology has also been an important cornerstone of the state’s IT strategy this year — with future expansions down the pipeline. A comprehensive cloud monetization initiative is currently underway, designed to migrate agency workloads and diminish the reliance on conventional data centers, according to Thomas. The state’s cloud environment is currently composed of several tools: Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Oracle, with ongoing exploration into a future collaboration with Google.

And as new cloud technology and the needs surrounding it continue to evolve, having the technical skill sets to harness the tools is undeniably crucial for the state. As such, GTA announced a partnership earlier this year with the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) to provide Georgia employees with advanced cloud technologies training.

The agency’s recent Emerging Technology Summit* highlighted some other areas the state is looking to capitalize on, namely innovative AI use cases. The event provided a 360 degree view of the positive and uncertain specificities surrounding AI.

“One of our goals at the summit was to make sure that we discussed, in a collaborative environment, everything surrounding AI, including the training, the fears of it, and how to use it responsibly,” Thomas described. “Everyone is intrigued by AI and everyone wants to talk about it, so the entire premise of the summit was to connect these individuals and get them talking so we can all gain more knowledge to use AI tools successfully and safely, rather than shy away from it.”

The summit saw participation from over 250 state, local and academic attendees from six states. The event also featured 24 vendor partners showcasing their various artificial intelligence platforms.

Another intriguing outcome of the summit is the inception of GTA’s new innovation lab, providing a collaborative space for agencies to closely engage with tech vendors and explore new tech resources, including AI.

“While the exploration of AI will be a proponent of our innovation lab, the hub will expand further than that specific tool,” Thomas shared. “We want to utilize the innovation lab for each of our agencies to come together and collaborate with vendors working in a controlled environment — a test environment — to analyze various use cases.”

Thomas added that any current or future AI policies would be a collaborative effort.

“We want to make sure we put out policies for responsible use only, without actually governing AI tools or exerting undue force over it,” she said. “At GTA, we try to involve all our state agencies in the policy inception process. All of the commissioners and the CIOs in the state had a chance to look at our current AI standards. It was truly a collaborative effort.”

The state’s commitment to broadband, digital equity and bridging the digital divide was a key focus of 2023 with substantial investments aimed at connecting unserved locations.

“We are putting a lot of effort into broadband and making it easier for our constituents to gain access no matter where they are,” Thomas shared. “Our broadband investments in 2022 were about $414 million through state fiscal recovery funds. In 2023, we had $226 million in capital project funds, and in other grants, we had about $300 million going towards broadband accessibility. This year alone, we impacted approximately 120,000 unserved locations.”

Looking at 2024, Thomas is excited about GTA’s role in propelling state modernization efforts forward even more.

“I’m very encouraged about the state of Georgia as a whole, where we’re headed and how GTA will play a role,” Thomas said. “Whether that’s through the consolidation of our North Atlanta Data Center, building upon our current digital equity and accessibility initiatives, or helping shape and nourish the great partnerships we have with our tech vendors, government leaders and agencies. We’re here to work as ‘One Georgia’ toward the best outcome for all our citizens.”

*The Emerging Technology Summit was hosted by GTA in partnership with Government Technology.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.