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Massachusetts Aims for Better Access, Efficiency in State Tech

Massachusetts is putting renewed energy into its IT operations and pushing to meet public demand for easier access to government, according to the state IT leader.

BOSTON — The state of Massachusetts is putting renewed energy into its IT operations and pushing to meet the public's demand for easier access to government.

During the Massachusetts Digital Government Summit Sept.12, MassIT Executive Director Mark Nunnelly discussed Gov. Charlie Baker’s vision for the state’s technological infrastructure and where changes must be made to better serve the constituency.

Nunnelly said the state’s strategy cannot simply rely on throwing technology at sluggish business operations, but rather an effort needs to be made to better understand the fundamental business processes and how they can be changed for the better.

"That means trying to figure out what we are doing first, making it more simple and then bringing technology to bear to allow us to get after it,” he said. “I think before we can begin to capture the potential of becoming more tech-enabled, we have to do that."

Among the state’s key priorities moving forward is “putting a new digital face” to He said that in order to get current, the portal is in need of a substantial overhaul.

"I think most of our content and most of the look and feel was probably established in the late '90s or early 2000s," Nunnelly said, offering support for a new face for Massachusetts' digital interface with constituents that focuses on optimizing citizen-government interactions.

On the security front, the CIO recognized that the growing threat landscape requires a more focused and organized approach to managing state systems. As it stands, disparate networks and the decentralized structure of agencies need to be reconciled to create a more optimal balance between security and access. He called the current model the “antithesis” of security.

"We live in a world where the bad guys are getting faster and more well-financed by the day, and at the same time we are the stewards of some fairly important and significant information," said Nunnelly. "Making sure we remain good stewards of that information while at the same time making sure that we allow that information to be accessed once it needs to be by our constituents are really important and big competing priorities." 

As with many states across the country, Massachusetts is also looking to make strides in technology procurement. Nunnelly said that during his tenure in his current role, frustrations have been voiced around the state’s existing methods. He hopes the transformation process will result in broader and more efficient access to innovation, while at the same time, maintaining variety in the vendors used by the state.

Despite the support of leadership and the involvement of the various agencies, Nunnelly said he has encountered a fair amount of skepticism because of unsuccessful past efforts. This time around, he said, the transformation is more of a must than a choice.

"We have to do this. If we don’t get a new digital face and a digital efficiency to how we interact with our constituents, we just can’t keep up with their demands,” he said. “We need to spend less time figuring out how we officially communicate with each other and more time figuring out how we have effective communications on the really big ways that our constituents interact with us."

Nunnelly said the state needs to be comfortable leveraging other people’s technology first and “doing fewer things, but doing them better."

When all is said and done, the MassIT executive director said cost savings will likely follow the efficiencies, but service to the citizens is paramount.

“While clearly we are on the search to make ourselves more efficient, the governor is really, really committed and understands that ultimately when we are done, this is not about whether you are spending less year on year," he said. "This is about whether or not we are serving our constituents better with more useful digital tools.”

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.