Colorado Gov. Polis appoints new statewide CIO

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (Colorado National Guard)

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Colorado Gov. Jared Polis announced Wednesday he is nominating Theresa Szczurek to serve as the state’s new chief information officer and executive director of its Office of Information Technology. Szczurek, the founder of an enterprise software firm that develops chatbots and other live-assistance platforms, will succeed Suma Nallapati, who stepped down Monday at the end of former Gov. John Hickenlooper’s term.

“Given the breadth and depth of Theresa’s IT experience and her entrepreneurial spirit, I am confident that she will continue to transform the technology landscape in Colorado,” Polis, who took office Tuesday, said in a press release.

Szczurek founded her Boulder-based firm, Radish Systems, in 2009, and served as its chief executive until accepting the CIO position. Before that, she operated a management consulting firm. She also served as commissioner of the Colorado Information Management Commission, a forerunner of OIT, from 1995 to 1997, under then-Gov. Roy Romer.

Theresa Szczurek (Colorado Office of Information Technology)

Polis, a Democratic former member of Congress, has his own background in technology. Before entering politics, he built a $300 million fortune after founding and selling multiple e-commerce websites, including ProFlowers, which was bought in 2005 for $477 million. As a candidate for governor last year, his platform included proposals to to incorporate blockchain technology into multiple state-government functions, including voter registration, energy-grid management and government record-keeping. (His campaign also accepted contributions in bitcoin.)

“My goal is to establish Colorado as a national hub for blockchain innovation in business and government,” Polis said on his campaign’s website. “I believe strong leadership will put Colorado at the forefront of innovation in this sector – encouraging companies to flock to the state and establishing government applications that save taxpayers money and create value for Colorado residents.”

Polis’ predecessor, John Hickenlooper, created a 12-member statewide blockchain council last year to explore how distributed ledger technology might be applied to the state government, which serves a population of 5.6 million residents. The group, which was led by Nallapati until her resignation, is tasked with developing a legal framework for incorporating blockchain.

Aside from blockchain, Polis, like many other gubernatorial candidates around the country last year, stressed the expansion of broadband internet access. A little more than 91 percent of Colorado residents have access to service with download speeds of at least 25 megabits per second, making it the 22nd most-wired state. And though the state’s population centers in Denver, Colorado Springs and Boulder do not lack for access, some counties, particularly on the vast Western Slope, lag behind.

In a November 2017 op-ed published by the Summit Daily, Polis blamed archaic regulations that prevent the state’s Public Utility Commission from moving funds from telephone projects to broadband projects, as well as a 2005 state law that banned local governments from building their own broadband infrastructure unless approved by voters.

“This requirement adds costs, and months to the timeline, for communities to build broadband, and it puts too much power in the hands of telecommunications companies,” Polis wrote. “In fact, not a single ballot measure to opt out has been rejected by voters. Some rural communities have opted out of the ban on community broadband to great success, creating a service for residents that delivers some of the highest internet speeds in the state.”

Szczurek enters the CIO’s office right after the launch of a mobile application for accessing government services. Built by the state Office of Information Technology under Hickenlooper and Nallapati, the myColorado app is designed to offer Colorado residents access to state agencies using a single sign-on. It launched with access to driver’s license renewals, though OIT says more functions will be added as the app is updated.

Nallipati, appointed in 2014, is now an executive at satellite-television provider Dish Network.

Szczurek holds a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Western Illinois University, master’s degrees from Stanford University and the University of Colorado Denver, and a Ph.D. in business administration from the University of Colorado Boulder.

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Blockchain, Colorado, Jared Polis, Theresa Szczurek
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