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New CIO brings a ‘kinder, gentler IT’ to Rhode Island

The appointment of Bijay Kumar as the state's new chief information officer represents a change of pace for an agency saddled with big projects and workforce challenges.

Jake Williams
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Jake Williams Associate Publisher & Director of Strategic Initiatives

Jake Williams is currently the Associate Publisher & Director of Strategic Initiatives for StateScoop, based in Washington, D.C., where h...

Rhode Island’s information technology operation is shifting gears.

With the appointment of Bijay Kumar earlier this summer as Rhode Island's new chief information officer (CIO), the state will look to finish building out a health and human services eligibility tool that has in recent months faced technical difficulties and delays. Gov. Gina Raimondo partially blamed the state's former CIO, Thom Guertin, for not holding the state's contractors more accountable for their work.

In addition to righting the course on struggling projects, Kumar’s appointment also brings a culture and directional shift for the state’s IT department, Tony Lupinacci, the state's chief technology officer told StateScoop in a video interview at the National Association of State Technology Directors annual conference in Memphis, Tennessee.

“I think we’re looking to be a kinder, gentler IT and trying to be a lot more aware of what our customers’ needs are,” Lupinacci says. “[We are working on] giving us a good platform to move forward with a lot of the things the new CIO wants to do.”

Lupinacci, who has been with state government for 25 years, says it was enlightening to watch Rhode Island move out of a decentralized IT structure and into a more centralized one.

“That was really a transformational thing for the state agencies,” Lupinacci says. “We’re continuing that transformation, too. I love seeing the hybrid cloud stuff we’re doing with [Microsoft] Office 365, and I can see the next phase. We’ll be handing this off to a new generation of IT professionals that are going to be able to run with it even better than we did.”

Moving forward, Lupinacci says he expects the transformation to continue, along with the expansion of collaboration and innovation efforts — whether they come from the state’s innovation office, or from the IT department under the authority of Kumar.

“[Agencies are] really asking for collaboration, being more nimble, putting things in the cloud,” Lupinacci says. “[But] I do need some foundational things. We need a governance plan. We need things before you just jump. We need to plan things out.”

That governance struggle also comes at a time when state government is working to attract a new generation of state IT workers, Lupinacci says, and Kumar is focused on making that more of a possibility.

“Retaining and recruiting talent — very difficult in state government,” Lupinacci says. “Salary has not come up, plus, you know, we have great titles like 'data processing analyst.' There’s a lot of worry about the long-term sustainability, but certainly something we can work on with the new administration.”

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