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Rhode Island CIO Bijay Kumar to Leave State Service

Chief Information Security Officer Brian Tardiff will take the helm in an interim capacity, as Kumar makes his return to the private sector. The state will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

Rhode Island Chief Information Officer Bijay Kumar.
Government Technology/David Kidd
Rhode Island CISO Brian Tardiff is now interim head of the state’s IT department as Bijay Kumar departs for the private sector, Kumar told Government Technology. The state will conduct a nationwide search for a permanent replacement.

“We’ve built a high-performing leadership team,” Kumar said. “That’s why I feel good about leaving; we’ve succession planned, and having an amazing team with competencies that didn’t even exist when I got in.”

Kumar has served as state CIO and chief digital officer since 2017, after being recruited from Hasbro by former Gov. Gina Raimondo.

“I took the job to serve, to do public service,” Kumar said.

The COVID-19 pandemic hit a few years into his tenure, and Kumar said he had wanted to stay long enough to see the state through it. He now returns to the private sector, with a global technology leadership position at a company in the same retail/consumer packaged goods/media and entertainment space in which he’d previously worked.

Kumar joined the state at a turbulent time, after the 2017 resignations of both the state chief digital officer and human services director, who had departed following the implementation of a troubled health and human services portal, which was plagued by benefit payments issues.

“One of the biggest reasons the previous governor hired me was to turn around the health and human services program,” Kumar said.

That wasn’t the only hurdle, either: The state didn’t have an IT leadership team at the time, and had received a mere C grade on the 2018 Digital States Survey.

And, like all states, Rhode Island had to respond to the pandemic.

By the 2020 Digital States Survey, Kumar had righted the ship, launching Rhode Island to a B+ score. Kumar accrued other acclaims over the year, too, including winning a BostonCIO Orbie Award in 2021.

As CIO and chief data officer, Kumar worked to build a competitive IT leadership team that has attracted members from the private sector, National Guard and military.

He also emphasized embracing a longer-term strategy.

“One fundamental thing we did was look at IT strategy beyond a term-limited approach,” Kumar said.

That meant recognizing that technology persists beyond the tenure of whichever official currently heads the executive branch or IT department and establishing three- to five-year IT plans that may outlast their tenures.

Rhode Island also suffered a malware incident early into his tenure, and Kumar worked to advance the cyber posture. He recommends steps like promoting ecosystem-wide cybersecurity awareness training, building a strong cybersecurity leadership team and participating actively in the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC) as well as partnering with the National Guard, state police and private sector.

In 2019, the state launched a first-in-nation statewide hotline where residents could report cyber crimes.

The team also implemented a variety of tech solutions to help respond to needs created by the pandemic. That included implementing a vaccination and contact tracing system, enabling remote work and using AI tools to help monitor the flood of unemployment insurance claims to identify potential fraud, Kumar said.

Kumar said he leaves the IT department in good hands.

“Rhode Island has the highest performing team in its history, and an amazing leadership team,” he said. “So [when] I look at leaving, the impact will be minimal, because we have an IT strategy, which is public, we have advanced processes, and we have a good extended leadership team. Irrespective of who’s in charge, they just need to tweak the strategy and move forward with the advancements they are making.”
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.