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Vermont’s Interim CIO Puts Focus on Stability

Agency of Digital Services Deputy Secretary Denise Reilly-Hughes will become interim CIO in July. She’ll focus on keeping momentum toward current goals and fostering stability after several leadership changes.

Denise Reilly-Hughes head and shoulder shot. She's professionally dressed and wearing glasses with a playful cow-splotch pattern. She's looking at the camera and smiling.
Denise Reilly-Hughes
Government Technology/David Kidd
Denise Reilly-Hughes is slated to become Vermont’s new interim CIO and Agency of Digital Services (ADS) secretary when Shawn Nailor retires at the end of June.

ADS has seen much leadership turnover of late, with Reilly-Hughes noting that her upcoming appointment will make her the third person in 12 months to lead the agency. Reilly-Hughes is ascending to the interim CIO spot from her current position as ADS deputy secretary.

As such, Reilly-Hughes is not looking to rock the boat, but to foster a sense of stability; sustain and grow relationships with staff, residents and partners; and keep momentum going on the current trajectory.

“I’m the third one in the past calendar year [to lead ADS] so I want to make sure that we create a sense of stability and ensure that we maintain our partnerships, both with our business agencies, the end user community, our own staff and also Vermonters, too,” Reilly-Hughes said.

Reilly-Hughes said she plans to check in with the agency’s business partners, to take the pulse and see if they’re still satisfied with their relationships with the ADS or if they have additional needs.

Reilly-Hughes joined the state government five months ago and says she will take lessons from seeing the previous two CIOs in action. She’d served as Nailor’s deputy secretary and worked closely with his predecessor, John Quinn, while she was at Microsoft.

“I’ve had a chance to work with both Shawn Nailor and John Quinn in various capacities, so I know the effort and work that they both put in to bring ADS and Vermont to the point they’re at today,” Reilly-Hughes said. “My goal is … to ensure that we stay on the same trajectory, and not lose any ground in the progress that they've made. “

For ADS, that includes emphasizing financial transparency about technology investments. Technology evolves quickly, as does the way it’s adopted and funded, and so ADS needs to ensure it’s closely monitoring IT projects and updating stakeholders about any necessary changes to costs and requirements, Reilly-Hughes said. Similarly, the agency looks to ensure it's connecting with business partners later to evaluate how well finished projects achieved the desired outcomes.

Data privacy and cybersecurity are also high on the agency’s priority list. One major initiative has just kicked off: The governor signed legislation on June 19 to establish a cybersecurity critical infrastructure council.

“There will be a series of efforts that go underway to get the council started and moving forward, and that is something that, [with the] support of the chief information security officer, we will be working on together, along with the governor’s office,” Reilly-Hughes said.

Constituent — or end user — experience also will continue to be a priority. Reilly-Hughes’ background in private-sector technology roles helped prepare her here, with several of her positions having emphasized customer success as well as looking at technology in a human-centric way.

One of Reilly-Hughes’ former private-sector roles saw her help Vermont with a cloud transition. That experience with the state better familiarized her with its culture and workings, which has proven helpful in her work now for the government.

“It gives me a little bit of that institutional knowledge to know what some of the foundations are here that we need to ensure we take into consideration when we make decisions around projects and initiatives,” she said.

For Reilly-Hughes, the switch from private sector to state government has been an important and carefully thought out one.

“I have lived here for the last 16 years, and I'm very committed to living here … I took a seven-month sabbatical as post-pandemic pause, to make sure I was being true to myself and to what was important to me,” Reilly-Hughes said. “When I had that opportunity, I realized technology is by far the area that drives me the most, but not technology in and of itself — it’s how it improves the lives of others. And when the opportunity came up to work for the state, I couldn’t see a better fit. That is what brought me to my first career in state government, and it has been fulfilling every day.”
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.