StateScoop's GoldenGov winners answer 3 questions

Last week, Scoop News Group announced the winners of the 2021 StateScoop 50 Awards, recognizing the top people and projects in state government IT. This week marks the start of a new series, in which the winners of those awards look back at their work over recent months and how they expect remote work and IT modernization to change as the globe continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

The series begins here with nine state government officials who were honored in 2021 with the GoldenGov award, a recognition of leadership in using technology to further innovative ideas and practices within state government.

Reporting by Emily Bamforth, Benjamin Freed, Ryan Johnston, Jake Williams and Colin Wood. These interviews were edited and condensed.

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Tracy Barnes, CIO of Indiana

Tracy Barnes, CIO of Indiana

How has the profile of your role changed during the pandemic?

Elevated. Significantly elevated. Especially for organizations that have done it the right way. A lot of times, we end up in a very utilitarian role as the tech solution provider or tech support provider. Throughout the pandemic, I’ve talked to a lot of my peers across the nation, and we’ve been brought into higher conversations at bigger tables to talk about how we actually drive value forward and change the way we do business and operate and provide government services and let technology lead, instead of just making sure the lights stay on.

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

Despite the growth of technology, constituents still operate at extremely varying levels of technology adoption. The pandemic has made that a bit stronger in realizing that digital services can’t be the only way we think we can connect our citizens. We have to continue to find ways to reach those at the top and those at the bottom. No matter how modernized and transformed we get, there’s still a lot of people who like to, need to and the only way they can get stuff done is by making that call or coming into the office. 

How do you anticipate managing a hybrid or remote model of work going forward?

A lot of it is going to be predicated on increasing communication and clarifying expectations. We have employed a significant number of new management training tools and modules that we’re requiring across the agency, encouraging and increasing meeting interactions, virtual or in person. Whether you’re in the office or not, how much are you engaging with people to understand what challenges and trials they’re having, giving them an opportunity to express their issues and roadblocks, and how do we as management and leadership make sure we’re giving them a conduit to share that information with us for us to make changes?

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John Correllus, chief data officer of North Carolina

John Correllus, chief data officer of North Carolina

How has the profile of your role changed during the pandemic?

My team had to step up during the pandemic as well to support new activities. Some were asked to support pandemic activities and others had to backfill duties and support each other. Within my organization is our health information exchange that really had to step up, and we also had our fraud and compliance team that had to step up to assist our partners at the division of employment security on benefits during the pandemic. How my role has changed, besides getting more work activities, is also really having to rely on the team. My team is so knowledgeable, so passionate and so committed, and making sure they’re part of the conversation and decision-making on how we continue to deliver this pretty massive portfolio while still supporting the most important, critical activities that we have.

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

I will continue to appreciate the people that have been committed to the State of North Carolina. I want to thank people for continuing their work efforts. One of the lessons I learned is that I might be the leader of my organization, but I really am just as much led by the people in the organization. Their contributions, consulting up to me, is really what’s made us successful during the pandemic and what’s going to make us successful going forward.

How do you anticipate managing a hybrid or remote model of work going forward?

People have been working extremely successfully remotely. I have an amazingly talented, passionate and committed team. They’re really a team of self-motivated consultants that have committed themselves to the goals of the organization and they stay focused on that. There hasn’t been a fall-off in that commitment and delivering the work during the pandemic. If anything I’d say people have been more focused. As we approach this plan, we need to take that into consideration, that people have been successful.

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Jennifer Ricker, CIO of Illinois

Jennifer Ricker, CIO of Illinois

How has the profile of your role changed during the pandemic?

In my experience, it was elevated before the last six months or a year when we created this new agency, DoIT. I think that really elevated the role of CIO here. There’s certainly been a huge demand on our agency than in the past because of everything everyone’s had to deal with. There are a lot more conversations going on on the business side with other agencies. There’s a much more consultant role for us to help guide them. 

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

The need to pivot during COVID accelerated things like using AI types of technologies, looking at our websites and front-end user experience. We thought we had more time to work on that, but when everything shut down we were in a position of where this was almost the only way residents of Illinois were able to interact with us, so we had to accelerate that. The need to scale really rapidly with some challenges early on with some of our systems that got heavily hit. Early on we needed to re-platform our websites to new servers. Those things are on our mind going forward, taking an omni-channel approach, so regardless of how a resident interacts with us, we can handle whatever that might be.

How do you anticipate managing a hybrid or remote model of work going forward?

Sometimes I think government is slow to pivot on the trends. I do think over the past year it’s been proven we can successfully work remotely, and not just a smaller portion of the state’s workforce. That was the norm prior to last year. I think we’ve shown that from a technological perspective, employees have still been very productive. I think decisions are still to be made here. We’re going to support it no matter what it looks like. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s a hybrid approach in the future.

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Carlos Rivero, chief data officer of Virginia

Carlos Rivero, chief data officer of Virginia

Do you feel the profile of your role has changed during the pandemic?

Oh yeah. I had a top executive the other day say that before the pandemic, they didn’t even realize why we would need a data officer. Now they’re like ‘I don’t know how I got along without one.’ It’s a pretty great compliment. Definitely the profile of the position has changed as a result of the work we’ve been able to do in the pandemic response.

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

Being able to have the right staff to do the work that needs to get done is absolutely critical. We’ve been a very, very small office — it was me by myself for two years before I brought on a student to help with some of the communication stuff and then during the pandemic I was able to bring on a deputy CDO and a communications manager. Technology is great — don’t get me wrong — but the technology doesn’t do the work by itself.

How do you anticipate managing a hybrid or remote model of work going forward?

My operations are completely remote to begin with. We’re a digital agency, so we work in bits and bytes all the time. Our deputy CDO and communications manager, I had not met them face-to-face during their whole hiring process and all the time they’ve been working with us. This Monday was the first time we physically met since March of last year. So we are all virtual. The only time we really need to be in-person is when we’re having face time with our stakeholders.

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Ervan Rodgers, CIO of Ohio

Ervan Rodgers, CIO of Ohio

Editor’s note: This interview was conducted before June 2, when Ervan Rodgers stepped down from his role with the Ohio state government.

Do you feel the profile of your role has changed during the pandemic?

The role has been enhanced, where if you didn’t think that technology is important, you now know that technology is important, and it needs to be a part of every fabric of every decision that’s taking place.

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

I always look at the pandemic as the glass is half full. We’ve been able to do some amazing things during the pandemic that had the pandemic not come I think would have taken a lot longer to get completed. An example is we set up a vaccine management system in three weeks, record time, all the way from procurement, product selection, to configuration to getting the contract all together. Three weeks. That is amazing. Record time. Granted, folks were working five to seven days per week, however, those are the kinds of lessons learned that we’ve got to carry forward about being more efficient with your time and effort and resources.

How do you anticipate managing a hybrid or remote model of work going forward?

II don’t think you can go back to the way that it used to be. But you know, time will tell and we’re waiting for the official communication from our governor. Whatever that decision is, I’ve worked with all my CIOs across the entire enterprise, where we brought in an outside firm, to help us come up with a strategy. It’s basically a menu of options. So no matter what the agency is, we will have a technology solution to fit the need.

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J.R. Sloan, CIO of Arizona

J.R. Sloan, CIO of Arizona

Do you feel the profile of your role has changed during the pandemic?

I feel it’s accelerated it. We’ve got great IT leaders in the agencies who are focused on the mission of those agencies and how to execute and how to deliver great services to their constituent populations. For me, my role is not only supporting them with the services that my organization does, but to try and look across those things and see where can we do better by working together.

What lesson will you take with you from the pandemic?

At points where we had challenges, communication is how you actually get that back on track. Technology aside, it really is communication, sharing of information, and everyone coming together around rallying to solve the problem, whether that was responding to how do we get vaccines in arms as quickly as possible, how do we ensure that our unemployment system putting checks in the hands of the people that need it. Even with the ancillary things, while those systems are burdened in the state, the rest of the services are continuing to serve citizens.

How do you anticipate managing a hybrid or remote model of work going forward?

Our Department of Administration, I think we’re collapsing from maybe two and a half floors down to one. My organization is going to go to about 25% of the space that we have previously. I think that from a work-life balance and as a benefit to state employees, this remote work is going to be a great thing. One of the really intriguing possibilities going forward is the ability for state government to engage workers in more remote areas of the state that might not have really thought about state government as a possibility before. It opens up maybe a whole other talent pool for us.

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