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Maryland Focuses on Modernization, Accessibility and Cyber

CIO Katie Savage explains how the state is taking a more holistic, collaborative approach to updating legacy systems, maturing its cyber team and establishing user-friendly design processes.

Maryland CIO Katie Savage.jpg
Katie Savage
Government Technology/David Kidd
As Maryland moves into 2024, CIO Katie Savage is working on modernization, cybersecurity and creating a more accessible, innovative digital government future.

The state’s approach to this includes new hires, cross-agency collaboration and a heightened focus on user experience for both agency customers and the residents those agencies serve.

Savage, who joined the state in 2023, is working to tackle both legacy and emerging tech. In part, her department is establishing a new way of assessing and prioritizing legacy tech modernization. In the past, individual agencies presented modernization goals, but the state lacked an enterprisewide view to determine which systems most needed a closing of vulnerabilities and maintenance of services. As the Department of Information Technology (DoIT) adopts this new vision, it’s taking a collaborative approach, soliciting agency feedback and convening a council of IT leaders to identify investment priorities.

That’s not the only way DoIT is working to become a better partner to other agencies, either. Savage said priority No. 1 for 2024 is clarifying DoIT’s products and services catalog, which has gone several years without an update. That lag means agencies could be unaware of all the supports available from DoIT, including newer additions like digital web work.

On the emerging tech side, the state is also taking a hard look at AI, recently announcing plans for establishing policies and procedures to ensure any uses of the tech are responsible and ethical. Savage will head a new AI Subcabinet.

This effort ties in with other goals around hiring, accessibility and cyber, too.

“All those pieces to me really connect together,” Savage said. “To be competitive as a state, we need to embrace new technology, but to embrace new technology, we need the right kind of talent … we also want to make sure that the technology we implement is accessible to everybody … [and] as we're experimenting with this new technology, we want to make sure that it's secure.”

DoIT historically focused on other agencies as its primary customers, but now it’s expanding its scope to also help with the digital experiences those agencies offer residents. Savage is working to build an in-house Digital Service team that can provide advice and assist with testing and prototyping.

To deliver on accessibility and customer experience, the state aims to infuse more user testing into product development.

“Often a practice you see in technology is called ‘user acceptance testing,’ which I sort of hate [because] it generally implies that a vendor calls the group of users into the process towards the end and says, ‘Does this function work for you?’” Savage said. “I believe strongly in having a discovery process up front … sitting shoulder to shoulder with users to understand what their challenges are.”

When she was formerly director of operations and services at the Chicago-based City Tech Collaborative, she leveraged a dedicated group of volunteer resident user testers. Applying such an approach now in Maryland could mean collaborating with the state Department of Disabilities to recruit residents with audio and visual challenges to test.

The effort would also involve working with vendors to see user experience testing incorporated throughout the process as well as building up an in-house state team specialized in UX tools and practices. AI might also help with accessibility, by translating materials into Spanish, Savage said.

Maturing DoIT’s cybersecurity team is also high among Savage’s 2024 goals. Cyber is a relatively new part of DoIT, after the state centralized security management in 2019. DoIT’s customer agencies vary widely in their individual cyber and tech resources and capabilities, and the department is considering the best way to meet each one where they’re at, such as by providing tiered levels of cyber and IT services and supports. New talent will also help: DoIT added two new roles — director of governance, risk and compliance and director of cyber resilience — and plans to add more security engineers.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.