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Virginia Targets Modernization for IT Efficiency

CIO Bob Osmond said prioritizing system modernization, financial optimization and infrastructure enhancement is essential to providing the best tech resources to agencies and residents.

Virginia CIO Robert "Bob" Osmond.jpg
Government Technology/David Kidd
Virginia has made notable progress in recent years on enhancing digital services, providing a promising road map for the future of technology in the state, its technology leader said.

Chief Information Officer Robert "Bob" Osmond told Government Technology the state’s IT strategy centers on three crucial pillars: strengthening IT infrastructure, optimizing cost efficiency, and focusing on application and system modernization.

IT infrastructure, that first pillar, is vital because it is foundational, Osmond said. "We’re working very hard to bolster our current infrastructure, making sure that the base platforms that provide messaging services, networks, databases, applications and data centers are in place because, as you look at trying to digitize or modernize, you need to have a strong foundation to support that." This will be Osmond’s second full year as CIO, after being appointed in April 2022 by Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Virginia’s second pillar in that strategy focuses on cost optimization, which involves collaborating with the state’s chief procurement officer. Osmond said the IT office is working hard alongside the procurement officer to aggressively look at contracts, ensuring they are receiving the best value for services. Analyzing consumption is one way to do that.

“We’re looking at some of the things we implemented during the pandemic, in particular,” Osmond commented. “Some of the programs we established during that time are no longer necessary, so we’re reviewing how to consolidate those systems and ensure we’re not paying for things like excess servers, workstations or cellphones that are no longer in use.”

The third pillar focuses on application and system modernization, with a noteworthy example being Virginia’s Website Modernization Program. This, the CIO said, was created to ensure the look and feel of state websites is up to date and authentic, fostering residents’ trust.

“We know that a lot of citizens experience Virginia through a digital lens, and looking at those websites, we want to make sure that citizens know they are trustworthy, legitimate websites, and a lot of that ties into the look and feel of the sites,” Osmond said. “We also want to make sure the systems in place are cyber secure and accessible through various devices to fully participate in Virginia state government digitally.”

In the past 12 to 14 months, the CIO said, the state has made significant strides in fiscal initiatives such as the Financial Performance and Oversight (FPO) program, which helps with cost management and provides granular insight into IT expenditures. During the same period, Osmond’s office also led the “re-platforming” of the state’s messaging capabilities into one Microsoft system to unify all state communication platforms.

Looking ahead, Virginia has several new tech projects on the horizon. There are plans to accelerate its move into the public cloud, focusing on creating virtual public clouds tailored to organizational entities. And Osmond’s office has plans to revamp the state's telecommunications framework to modernize wireless programs, transitioning landlines to voice over Internet protocol, and enhancing collaboration platforms.

Osmond credits collaboration and partnerships with state agencies and external entities for much of the state’s IT progress.

“Our agencies are driving transformative change in various areas, whether it’s portals being developed for the education system or modernizing our back-office systems to support our personnel better,” Osmond said. “We are the agencies’ partner, working side by side to make sure the business units that provide those direct citizen services are adequately supported.”

This type of collaboration has been particularly important as Osmond’s office has partnered with government policy leaders to create a framework for emerging technologies such as generative AI.

Artificial intelligence has become a focal point for Virginia, particularly with Youngkin's recent signing of two executive orders with several AI policies embedded. In September, he signed Executive Directive No. 5 to “ensure responsible, ethical and transparent use of AI." This was followed in January by Executive Order 30, which implemented AI education guidelines for the classroom and outlined AI policy and information technology standards on safeguarding data.

To help create and implement these AI policies, Osmond’s office took a “whole of state” approach.

“We consulted with our federal partners to research the opportunities connected to artificial intelligence while also recognizing the risks associated with it,” he said. “We spent a lot of time talking to the hyperscalers alongside leaders at Google, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. We brought in external expertise from different policy groups and higher education leaders here in Virginia to help shape these policies.”

Osmond said the framework will likely continue to expand as AI becomes more prevalent, and as it becomes “baked into a lot of third-party products, whether it’s your smartphone or your vehicle.”
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from the University of Montevallo and a graduate degree in public relations from Kent State University. Silver is also a published author with a wide range of experience in editing, communications and public relations.