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Michael Leahy Looks Back on Six Years Leading Maryland IT

Leahy sought to bring more transparency to the technology agency’s offerings and work, and improve its customer service. Now as he leaves office, he expects to make a return to the private sector.

Michael Leahy.
Michael Leahy
(David Kidd/Government Technology)
Maryland CIO Michael Leahy is winding down his last days in the role, a transition that will also take him out of the public sector, at least for now.

“I’ve spent most of my career in the private sector. … It’s time to go back and do things on the other side of the aisle,” Leahy told Government Technology.

He looks back at six years as state CIO, during which he sought to make it simpler for other state agencies to get help from the Department of Information Technology (DoIT).

“As a philosophy for the role, [I] saw the agency as primarily responsible for providing solutions to other units of government,” Leahy said. “… Most of the initiatives we undertook — although they certainly had a technology element — were geared toward process and procedure, and simplifying technology for people who used it but didn’t have to know how it actually worked.”

During Leahy’s tenure, DoIT launched efforts to improve communications with client agencies, draw attention to what the department could do for its customers, as well as clarify the costs involved.

One of the first challenges Leahy encountered was the need to improve customer service, something the governor had called on all state agencies to do.

At the time, “information flow between agencies, particularly with regard to the application of technology, wasn’t as transparent as we would have liked it to be, and wasn’t formally processed,” Leahy said.

State agencies needing help would often just reach out to anyone they happened to know in DoIT — a more haphazard approach that Leahy and his team sought to correct by establishing formal points of contact for different issues.

“We created a number of methodologies, so people knew exactly who to contact with regard to either new technology uses or with regard to problems, rather than just calling the person they already knew over at the Department of Information Technology. And it made a huge difference,” he recalled.

To complement this, DoIT also created a system helping it ticket and track the incoming requests, so the team could better understand customer needs. This oversight helped the department detect frequent queries that might be best addressed by publishing information — rather than fielding the matter anew each time — or with common solutions.

When four agencies independently submitted requests for a licensing portal, it helped inspire a new project. Rather than “reinvent the wheel” and create a separate portal for each agency, DoIT launched OneStop, a centralized platform to serve the licensing needs of these and other agencies down the line.

Leahy also sought to shift the nature of conversation between DoIT and other agencies toward focusing on the kinds of fixes agencies needed, and only after looking into the specific tools that might help. Breaking away from using specialized technological terms and jargon to instead discuss in plain language further helped connect.

“Every profession seems to have its restrictive language and the secret terms that we all use that no one on the outside understands,” Leahy said. “I found it very important to communicate transparently with our peers and with our customers, [so that] they didn’t any longer view us merely as those back-office folks that did the 1s and 0s, but as business partners.”

To further strengthen relationships, DoIT started assigning customer experience and portfolio officers to specific client agencies. These officers could serve as go-to contacts and help field issues or handle technology implementations.

“We found that by creating those specific relationships, we had someone in-house that knew the leadership and the folks in the agencies they were assigned to,” Leahy said. “And so of course, then those folks in those agencies had a better sense of DoIT’s capabilities and our commitment to their success.”

Leahy hasn’t only worked to bring transparency to DoIT’s offerings, but also to the costs involved. To better explain budget asks, the department adopted a technology business management (TBM) approach to accounting that lays out the “actual costs of utilization of the technology,” Leahy said. An accompanying shift to charging client agencies based on what they used has also kept expenses under control.

“Folks would, in the past, say they wanted 50 of something. When we told them what it cost, they would say, ‘Well, we really only need two,’” Leahy said.

Although Leahy led the team, many others helped drive its achievements, he said.

“I am incredibly grateful to Gov. [Larry] Hogan for giving me this opportunity and … to the people of DoIT, who have just shined. I get the credit for their great work, but they’re the ones who did it,” he said.

He also credited the guidance and support of peers like Connecticut CIO Mark Raymond and former Ohio CIO Stu Davis, as well as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

“Their [NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson and Program Director of Enterprise, Architecture and Governance Eric Sweden’s] knowledge, support and counsel was a major sounding board for me and my colleagues,” Leahy said. “NASCIO involvement led to a great deal of our team’s successful underpinning and thought.”

Leahy did not know who would be replacing him but said if he was to give a successor advice, it would be to “be humble and transparent” and to focus on providing the team with the resources and trust to deliver strong results.

“If you give people the initiative and let them know that you believe they can accomplish the job and don’t micromanage how they do it, they will succeed,” Leahy said.
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.