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Translating Civic Tech to the State Level in New York

Interim New York State Chief Information Officer Jeremy Goldberg discusses the transition from city to state IT, and what lessons from initiatives like Startup in Residence can be applied at higher levels.

New York State CIO Jeremy Goldberg
Jeremy Goldberg describes himself as a “student of civic tech and gov tech.” His resume includes time with San Francisco, where he helped launch the Startup in Residence (STiR) program, as well as three years as New York City’s deputy CTO. Since November 2019, Goldberg has been interim CIO for New York state, a position that’s both broader than and similar to his city-level work.

1. How has your experience in major cities translated to state work?

San Francisco prides itself on being the center of the tech industry, and that’s clearly played a role in both the access to and engagement with technology and technologists. Tech certainly has a strong presence in New York City, but you can’t say that New York is defined by the tech industry the same way as San Francisco. Technology is a part of every industry in New York, from the arts and academia to finance and banking, and that has influenced the city government’s approach to technology. The approach to gov tech over the last decade speaks to the importance of these regional differences.

Still, the state level is different in some critical ways. New York has a 50-mile drone corridor that stretches from central New York to the Mohawk Valley. We have a thriving biotech industry in the capital region, and about 20 percent of the state’s land area is used for farming and has benefited tremendously from ag-tech solutions. The other important part from the state perspective is the ability to coordinate and direct the state’s resources and our technical knowledge at scale. That’s been a major boon for just about every area of the state, and that’s something that can’t quite be replicated at the city level. 

2. Do civic tech efforts like the STiR program work at the state level?

Over the past 10 years, a lot of cities really have been leaders in the gov tech or civic tech space. And we’ve begun to see that many of their lessons are making their way into state government at this time, including here in New York where we have the resources to scale that work and make it successful for the entire population. I see increasingly a growing leadership role for state government and governors in charting a course for the next 10 years of civic tech. 

3. How will the COVID-19 response affect New York state long term?

We know the crisis is having a very severe economic impact, and that means that we need to use our resources even more efficiently and effectively. It’s not just about policy, it’s about operational approaches and priorities. The old model of “buying more stuff” to solve our technology problems won’t be financially viable any longer, but the crisis has also reinforced the lesson that it also wasn’t going to be technologically viable. So we have to be smart, thoughtful and agile in the way we approach technology across the board, and if we are, we have an opportunity for positive and transformative change. 

The state’s response to the coronavirus has also reinforced the need for flexibility and stability across the state’s technology infrastructure and workforce. By “flexibility” I mean that we can shift our focus to respond to a crisis or a new priority at a moment’s notice. The stability piece is so our services remain reliable during normal operations so we can continue to be resilient as we face unprecedented events, and we’re really taking proactive steps to support our technical workforce with the technologies and training that they need. 

4. What does that workforce development look like?

We’re working closely with our human resources team, expanding access to professional development and training opportunities and promoting employee engagement. We’re going to be doing this not only for the Information Technology Service workforce, but also offering them up to digital information officers and others across the state, helping to equip them with new tools to operate more effectively in a digital environment. It’s putting the people and process in place before the technology.

Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and more than 10 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.
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