Nebraska’s incoming Gov. Pete Ricketts intends to use technology to improve the performance of a number of state agencies, and he’s turning his attention first to the state’s Department of Correctional Services.
Ricketts, the former chief operating officer for Ameritrade, said during a press conference Dec. 1 that the company emphasized technology in keeping the company’s products modern and that the state should now apply the same principle.
The Department of Correctional Services is in need of a refresh due to a number of outdated procedures, most notably the handling of inmate sentencing data, which has not changed in approximately 30 years.
“It’s hand generated,” said Joe Kelly, the attorney general for Lancaster County in Nebraska. “It’s physically transported from the D&E (the Diagnostic and Evaluation Center in Lincoln) to the facility that the individual goes with.”
The records are eventually put into a computer system for an electronic record, but that system is also decades old and does not have the agility the department needs to be efficient.
Ricketts mentioned the state’s handling of sentencing data as an example of how state government work could be streamlined or how services could be improved by adopting new technology.
“In the private sector, if you don’t do that, your competitors put you out of business,” he said. “They need it badly. They need to update their technology.”
On the campaign trail, Ricketts highlighted his efforts to modernize Ameritrade and emphasized the tech focus his family brought to the Chicago Cubs when they bought the professional baseball team in 2009.
The Cubs broke ground last month on a $575 million renovation to Wrigley Field, and the team has installed state-of-the-art information technology systems at its new office in Chicago, its baseball academy in the Dominican Republic and its training camp in Mesa, Arizona.
Of course, state funds can be a little tighter than those in the private sector, something Ricketts acknowledged as the state approaches budget season. Though, he said he believes that organizations need to budget in money for technology upgrades.
“You’re not going get the full solution from the start,” he said. The state needs “a mindset of continuous improvement, that the job is never done.”
In addition, Ricketts said, “just the technology by itself is not sufficient. It is about a culture change.”
That culture change is something Ricketts is fully invested in. He’s already announced that he plans national searches to find a new director for the Department of Correctional Services along with the state’s Department of Health and Human Services.
That change will be the first the state has seen in nearly a decade. Dave Heineman has served as Nebraska’s governor since 2005, one of the longest tenures in the nation, but was unable to run this past election because of term limits.