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Minnesota's People-Centered Approach to Government

CIO Tarek Tomes discusses the guiding principles of his strategy for Minnesota IT Services, the rollout of the state's streamlined benefits portal and how putting citizen experience first drives digital equity.

Minnesota CIO Tarek Tomes
David Kidd/Government Technology
In his time with Minnesota, CIO Tarek Tomes has helped build a culture of collaboration, benefiting from shared expertise in order to move the state’s tech work forward. This has resulted in a range of tangible results, from a new Office of Transformation and Strategy Delivery to a streamlined benefits portal. Tomes recently took some time to discuss what he’s working on now.

1. What are some of the guiding strategies for Minnesota IT? 

You can’t make progress unless you’re given an opportunity to work on things that really make a difference, and our executive branch agencies trust us to deliver on the technology components for their missions. Overall, the vision that Gov. [Tim] Walz set forth in the One Minnesota Plan has allowed us to make a difference. We’re centered around several major areas. One is our connected culture. Another is promoting a people-centered digital government. There’s also our work surrounding data and cybersecurity, not just across the executive branch but across all of Minnesota.  

 We’ve been fortunate that Gov. Walz issued an executive order that created the Blue Ribbon Executive Council on Technology, which has since become permanent as the Minnesota Technology Advisory Council. It has experts not just from government but also the private sector. Collaborating with bodies like that and our business partners allows for us to glean from the expertise of others and think about how we can continue to move technology forward.  

2. What kind of work is the Office of Transformation and Strategy Delivery doing?

One thing that’s important is centering the work around enablement, and how can we not just enable technology components but how can we enable the broader work that we do. The work is focused around a couple areas, one being transformation. One of the recommendations from the advisory council centered around a modernization timeline, an in-depth approach to how we modernize not just technology but the business processes and the organizational change management that goes along with it, including changing from a project orientation to a product orientation.

The second major focus is around delivery, hyper-focused on delivering value as fast as possible and a larger transformation to a more agile delivery mechanism. It goes hand in hand with the product approach we’re taking. We try to de-emphasize the nature of a project, because a project has a beginning and an end, but the work we do to serve people doesn’t end. We need to make sure there is a continued evolution to the services we’re delivering.  

3. What are some advantages to a streamlined benefits portal?

It’s important to start with what it does — it’s our portal that provides a number of human services programs, including food assistance, cash assistance, housing support and child-care assistance. It’s an entryway to some of the most important services we provide. We’ll soon be adding support for additional populations. This is a service area where the application process used to take well over an hour to complete, and it serves some of our most vulnerable Minnesotans. 

 Since we’ve launched this entryway, over a half million people have been served, and it now takes less than 15 minutes to complete the application process. It’s a beacon for what’s possible and an example we look to replicate across the executive branch. 

4. How does increasing accessibility help with digital inclusion?

There were a number of people who abandoned the process because it was too complicated, because it took too long. In recognition that everyone is not as digitally connected, we also support digital navigators, or people who can support other people in successfully applying. The whole thing started with interviewing people to understand what is this experience like and what could it be like. That people-centered approach is what led to the design and the opportunities that surround it. Now this work doesn’t stop.
Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.