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New Jersey’s CTO on Modernization and Funding Cyber

In the role of chief technology officer since June, Christopher Rein describes the challenges he sees around modernizing legacy systems and striking a balance between implementing current and emerging tech.

Christopher Rein took the lead as New Jersey’s chief technology officer last June, overseeing the state’s Office of Information Technology. A longtime public- and private-sector tech official, Rein previously served as deputy director of the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell, as well as the state’s deputy chief information security officer. He’s New Jersey’s second-ever IT leader and is taking a measured approach to state IT modernization and development.

1. What are your biggest priorities over the next year?

Probably like many states, modernization of legacy technology is a big one. Some areas have been unfunded or underfunded for quite some time, and the state has employed some heroic efforts to keep them running. So we need to modernize some back ends, modernize infrastructure, but also modernize and help with the digital transformation, where it’s not just technology, it’s not just the website, but it’s the culture change, the behavior change, and in some cases the process change within government.  

2. What has been the most difficult part of that modernization?

The most difficult aspect of our modernization has been the infrastructure that runs several generations of compute platforms. Of course, like every state, much of our business is still processed through our mainframe technology as well as older physical servers, many virtual servers, and there’s obviously this careful movement toward the cloud that we have to do in a secure way. So, those are some variations, and a lot of the time, variations among 50 or 70 state agencies create some challenges.

3. Is your agency getting more funding for cyber than a few years ago?

We are. Cybersecurity funding right now is achieved in New Jersey through a strong partnership between our Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness (OHSP), which includes the Cybersecurity and Communications Integration Cell, and the Office of Information Technology. We operate the infrastructure and the networks, and cybersecurity operates all of the detection, prevention and cyberanalytics. It’s a really good partnership, including from a funding perspective. The state has in the past two years gotten to a point where it is funding dedicated streams for cyber. So whereas sometimes OIT does not have dedicated line-item funding for specific areas like cybersecurity, our partnership with OHSP’s funding enables that.

4. When it comes to new technologies, is it better as a CTO to focus on what’s coming next or what you already have?

Always one of the challenging areas in a leadership role is that, even though the focus is largely on keeping our state infrastructure running, we always have to keep an eye looking ahead to know what’s next so that we can plan for maybe multiple-year budget cycle efforts. In New Jersey, sometimes that’s a challenge because of our fiscal year and the fact that it’s a pretty rigorous one-year fiscal cycle. But looking ahead at technology, like blockchain, we have to keep our eye on that and be aware of what its impacts are on our citizens. How do we make the government better? It’s not about the bleeding edge as a state. We can’t afford to be on the bleeding edge. We probably in some cases do want to be on the leading edge, but in terms of knowing what’s out there and being able to take a look over the horizon while you’re still dealing with the problems back at home — that is the balance I like to try to strike.  

Lauren Kinkade is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.