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New Jersey Works to Stay Nimble Amid Changing Tech Landscape

CTO Chris Rein discusses the work of adjusting to a fast-evolving tech environment, as well as the progress his state has made on identity access and management, mainframe as a service and data sharing.

Christopher Rein New Jersey CTO
New Jersey was implementing a new IT strategic plan when generative AI exploded, seemingly reinventing the IT landscape.

"Amongst our priorities is throwing out all the priorities that we thought were priorities," said New Jersey CTO Chris Rein.

That's just what happens when you prep an IT strategic plan mere months before the proliferation of generative AI tools like ChatGPT, Google Bard and Gemini. So, Rein's Office of Information Technology (OIT) is shifting, which speaks to the constant need for state tech operations to be nimble. Indeed, events like COVID-19 or the rise of generative AI just underscore how fast tech changes and just how essential it is for OIT to adjust rapidly.

“All that is teaching us that, hey, if we don't get more nimble, we're never going to be able to keep up with the technology gap; in fact that the technology gap between where we are and where we need to be would only grow over time,” Rein said.

Being able to adjust fast requires understanding what keeps staff motivated. That includes offering hybrid work, celebrating accomplishments and investing in technical training like those related to cloud and AI, to ensure staff feel they’re building careers and skill sets.

As the state works to now get a handle on AI, Rein is co-chairing the state’s AI Task Force, which is working to write about the AI landscape and issue recommendations for using the technology. The state is examining all aspects, including bias prevention, optimizing services, natural language processing and more, Rein said.

Rein’s team is also working to complete IT strategic plan updates before AI technologies undergo another significant evolution. Given how quickly technologies change, that IT strategy will likely need further tweaks down the line.

Emerging tech can also make budgeting tricky.

Rein said they'd have to be both prudent and efficient with the tech budget as the end of the fiscal year approaches, describing it as a balancing act in the face of the new technologies.

Despite the hurdles, the state has been making strides on core parts of its IT strategic plan. For one, it’s been shifting from on-premises mainframes to mainframe as a service. That effort is now in a “mature phase,” Rein said, and the state is working to “find places where we can peel workloads off of the mainframe.”

New Jersey has also been working to bring more commonality across agencies’ identity and access management (IAM) approaches. The IT shop offers a central myNewJersey portal, run on an IAM platform serving 2.2 million residents. As agencies launch new applications, they often now choose to leverage that IAM solution, avoiding the need to acquire their own.

The state’s also exploring how to ramp up IAM security as conditions shift, more employees work from home and threat actors revise their approaches. For example, it’s become clear now that some forms of multifactor authentication are more phishing-resistant than others.

And New Jersey is continuing efforts to break down data siloes, something highlighted in the strategic plan. The state is considering how it can create a centralized way to handle data sharing among agencies that would avoid needing to have a separate data-sharing agreement for each individual instance.
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.