Industry leaders reflect on the future of the SLED market

Behind the state governments making headlines for their use of technology are a cohort of private-sector leaders who help agencies get the tools they need, configured in a way that furthers their agendas to serve their citizens and improve operational efficiency. 

This week, we highlight this year’s winners of the StateScoop 50 Industry Leadership of the Year awards. Here, the winners talk about how their work changed during the pandemic, the future of the govtech market and how they kept in touch with their customers and the wider community as the world shifted to remote work.

These interviews were edited and condensed. Reporting by Jake Williams.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Jennifer Axt, VP of U.S. SLED at Tanium

Jennifer Axt, VP of U.S. SLED at Tanium

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

We did have to rethink how we go to market. When you’re in sales, you’re out there with your customer physically, right? So all of a sudden, you have this immediate stop. During all of this, I was also building out a brand new team, hiring people that I’d never met in person. It made me think about how to communicate better. Now, I know my team personally more than I would have ever been able to in the past.

How did you build community from a distance?

I reached out to a couple of my state CIO friends in the industry and put together a [regular call] as a way for us to stay connected. We started every Wednesday night, just for an hour, connecting with other executives. We had guest speakers and have gone from helping people in their careers to having guest speakers talk about what they’re doing within their vertical.

What opportunities do you see today in the SLED market?

With all the ransomware hits and now relief funding, there’s more money than government has ever had before [to address cybersecurity]. We’re really focused on helping government mature and understand what’s in their environment. 

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Nancy Bohannon, VP of SLED at Red Hat

Nancy Bohannon, VP of SLED at Red Hat

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

What I’m most proud about is that the team really stepped up to support customers. Our customers were going through incredible challenges that nobody ever saw coming, and the Red Hat community jumped in and was willing to do anything possible to make our customers successful. We really focused on automation and helping our customers do more with less. 

What opportunities do you see today in the SLED market?

I really think we’re transitioning to a citizens-first model. We need to modernize quickly and citizens need to be able to do things from their home. We all need to accelerate that vision across government and academia. I think we’ll get to the point one day when we look back and say “I can’t believe I used to go to the DMV for that.”

How did remote work change your work life?

I really missed airplane time. Airplanes were when I was thinking, when I was writing things down. I missed that. I missed the conversations with my team that did not happen because we weren’t together in the office. I think one of the challenges was we would run from one meeting to another and it was very business-focused versus relationship-building-focused. We’re going to spend the next year figuring out how to navigate this new normal, but I think in the end it’s going to enhance our ability to be connected.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

John Cecala, cloud executive at Google Public Sector

John Cecala, cloud executive at Google Public Sector

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

I’m a Google Cloud technology advocate for the State of Illinois, so I spend 100% of my time looking for ways to help the state provide better constituent services. As a resident of the state, I too was impacted by the pandemic. I was fortunate from a standpoint that I was able to understand both sides of the coin, which enabled me to provide a higher level of empathy to my customer and help them realize how they can solve for outcomes. 

What opportunities do you see today in the SLED market?

The pandemic forced government to accelerate modernizations that were long overdue. When the pandemic hit, it accelerated these transformations in a meaningful way. So post-pandemic, what I see is the ability to move faster, with more ease and less friction because they’ve already put a lot of these baseline technologies in place. 

How did you manage to connect with people from a distance during the pandemic?

I think it actually made us closer. It was a change, but I think it increased accessibility to people. There were people who were able to make meetings because it gave them flexibility in their schedule, which enabled me to develop relationships with folks that I maybe wouldn’t have had the opportunity to have done in a large-scale face-to-face environment. 

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Leslie Harlien, VP of public sector strategy at Dell Technologies

Leslie Harlien, VP of public sector strategy at Dell Technologies

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

We had to be more empathetic and more conscious. That really means being flexible with how we’ve worked internally in the past. We spent a lot of time having more one-on-ones, and instead of being all about what was going on with the business, it was more personal. 

How did you maintain relationships with your customers?

It was very challenging at first. Some of our customers either didn’t have the tools and the processes set up to be in this virtual world or they had different tools than what we were using, so we had to adapt. Once we got past maybe month three, it actually worked better. We were able to see more people because we weren’t spending time traveling to the airport and being on a plane for a few hours.

What opportunities do you see today in the SLED market?

We’re focused heavily on working with our customers on cyber resiliency, looking at security end-to-end, and being able to provide that across all of their infrastructure. We also see customers looking to provide better services to citizens. Citizens want to do even more virtually. The pandemic also brought out loud and clear an issue around digital equity, so a big focus that we have been working hand-in-hand with our customers on is around broadband infrastructure.

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Peter Korst, director of government and education sales at IBM

Peter Korst, director of government and education sales at IBM

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

I think one of the things that it really forced us all to do was re-examine how we deliver services to citizens. What we found is that there was stress put on those systems that caused issues to pop up that we never could have imagined. The pandemic enabled us to take a look at those problems. Understanding the importance of the people who were waiting on the other end really gave us a chance to figure out a better way to [serve them].

What opportunities do you see today in the SLED market?

It accelerated the use of cloud technology, and it also opened the door to how we make sure that those new environments that we are creating are secure. Not only did [cloud] solve some problems, it also opens some doors about how we can now think of delivering services differently. 

How did you manage to connect with people from a distance during the pandemic?

It tested the resiliency of all of us, and I think that we all came from a perspective that would say, “We can’t get things done unless we’re sitting around a table talking to each other,” but we actually go so much done. It required a new language, in a way, but we found a way to communicate and we could engage people more than ever before. 

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

Kim Majerus, leader of U.S. education and state and local government at Amazon Web Services

Kim Majerus, leader of U.S. education and state and local government at Amazon Web Services

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

[Before the pandemic] state, local and education institutions really weren’t at that point where they were taking what cloud could give them, so we were able to jump in at a moment’s notice. I had one CIO actually say to me, “This normally would’ve taken us a year, but we’ve been able to get it done in three weeks.”

What opportunities do you see today in the SLED market?

Now the approach is changing to, “Alright, we did it for one system, how do we modernize the rest of our systems?” We’re going to see that with the American Rescue Plan funding, right? While we hope this pandemic never, ever happens again, states are realizing they better be prepared, and it’s the modernization of their systems that will get them there. 

How did you manage to connect with people from a distance during the pandemic?

It’s really just been about showing them we’re here for them. A lot of the relationships that I’ve built over my career have really allowed me to offer help and support. I have to say, I have an amazing team of people that are focused on solving customer problems, and it’s those relationships that really helped accelerate and solve. 

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail

TwitterFacebookLinkedInRedditGmail