New Calif. CIO should emphasize cyber, collaboration — state tech leaders

As the state looks to replace former CIO Carlos Ramos, public and private sector leaders have their own ideas about what traits the new tech exec should have.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The hunt is on for a new California CIO after Carlos Ramos stepped down from the state’s top tech job this spring.

Amy Tong, the state’s Health and Human Services Agency CIO, has temporarily filled the post, overseeing the state’s nearly $5 billion IT budget and managing technology security activities across state agencies. The governor’s office hasn’t been explicit about what it’s looking for — other than it aims to “select the best possible candidate from a broad and diverse pool of applicants” — but tech leaders throughout the state say the new candidate must place a premium on continuing some of Ramos’ current projects and boosting the state’s cybersecurity.

Finding a candidate with those qualities won’t be easy, Matt Gardner, chief executive of the California Technology Council trade group, told StateScoop.

“The Brown administration is going to have to work pretty hard to find someone who’s rock-solid with a steady hand,” he said. “In a job like this, it may take some number of months to get someone’s arms around all the moving parts, to do their own evaluation of where things stand in the plan.”


Ramos had served as state CIO for five years — a long career for a state chief IT executive, who usually stays on the job less than two years, according to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers. During his tenure, Ramos transitioned the IT shop into a Cabinet-level department; built the team that launched CalCloud, the state’s centralized cloud platform; and created the state’s Project Management Office to help streamline IT projects in the state.

[Read more: California launches new framework for tech projects]

Gardner said he hoped the new CIO could maintain that momentum.

“I think what’s going to be difficult about filling these vacancies is creating an atmosphere of stability when there is this much change happening simultaneously,” Gardner said.

Another chief concern in the California IT community — as in other states — is cybersecurity. State Chief Information Security Officer Michele Robinson recently stepped down following a damning report that raised questions about the effectiveness of her office.


Since then, the Legislature has sent three bills to the appropriations committee to mandate a cyber incident response plan, develop a California Cybersecurity Integration Center and establish a cybersecurity vulnerability reporting reward program. 

Gardner said the new CIO should come in with an expertise in cybersecurity so he or she could most effectively lead the state’s cyber efforts.

“I think the security question is hanging over everybody. It requires constant education already,” Gardner said. “Even if there are people that specialize in it underneath the CIO, I think it’s got to be the thing that haunts state CIOs for the next decade or so, until we figure out how to find an approach that proactively defends the system.”

He said the new CIO should focus on cybersecurity education so that a new generation of tech leaders is poised to protect the state against cyberthreats in the long term. 

Meanwhile, city-level CIOs called for the new state tech executive to do more to work with other local governments.


“A lot of other city CIOs are very interested in working together and that may be a huge opportunity for us in the public sector. Not just for a state CIO, but certainly important in a state CIO is that culture of collaboration,” San Francisco CIO Miguel Gamiño told StateScoop.

He hopes that the state CIO initiates face-to-face meetings with city and agency CIOs, which he said could help generate new ideas for programs.

Los Angeles County’s acting CIO Peter Loo wants the state CIO to work with local governments so their IT plans fit into the state’s overarching goals.

“As we begin to use more cloud services, I think there is an opportunity for us to collaborate on how to use our disparate cloud infrastructures to share some of the computing,” Loo said.

As technology changes the way business is done, the state CIO must lay the groundwork for all other agencies and their technology, he said.


“I think it’s a huge opportunity that the public sector has to work together, frankly it’s one of our advantages over the private sector,” Gamiño said. “You’re not going to find Pepsi and Coca-Cola sitting together in a conference room sharing ideas. Government doesn’t have that burden.”

Looking ahead, it’s unclear when California will hire a permanent replacement for Ramos. The governor’s office wouldn’t say when they expected to fill the job. But with Gov. Jerry Brown’s term ending in 2019, the new CIO may serve a shorter term than his or her predecessor. 

Jake Williams contributed to this report. 

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