When Ohio Chief Information Officer Ervan Rodgers steps down from his role next week after more than two years leading the state’s technology initiatives, he’ll leave things better than he found them, he told StateScoop.
A former project manager and IT consultant for Hewlett-Packard and Accenture, Rodgers has spent the past seven years working under Mike DeWine, first in the attorney general’s office before being appointed statewide CIO after DeWine was elected governor in 2018.
In an interview with StateScoop, Rodgers described some of his management techniques, progress of the state’s technology projects during his tenure and why he kept welling up after he made the decision to leave the state government to become the CIO of Designer Brands, which owns the DSW store chain.
So, are you from Ohio?
I’m actually born and raised in Michigan. I moved here 16 years ago, but when you have three kids that all attend [the Ohio State University] and the fans are so strong here, and they win — go Bucks! — I’ve been converted from a Spartan fan to an OSU fan.
You said you’re leaving the state in better shape than you found it. What would you point to as the evidence for that claim?
I would say a number of things. Transparency. Making sure that we’re working in collaboration with not only our citizens, but with our senators, our representatives across the aisle from an agency perspective. That’s one thing I’ve continued to focus in on since day one, to take down some of the barriers, which is why day one of bringing all the CIOs together I DJ’d an event. I shared my alter ego out of the gate to create an environment of less stuffy and more folks willing to share information and fail fast. And it has created a team dynamic collaborative environment that builds on top of the lieutenant governor’s Innovate Ohio.
How has InnovateOhio evolved over the last two-plus years?
Taking advantage of the InnovateOhio platform, I think we have changed the way that we do business here in Ohio, because we got more than a year start on the pandemic with trying to translate and transform a lot of the digital services that we were offering to our citizens, such as “Get In Line Online.” That’s our [Bureau of Motor Vehicles] solution where folks could get in line while they were at home virtually. Little did we know we would take that pilot and expand it and it came at a really good time, versus having a bunch of people in the middle of a pandemic — not having vaccines at the time — standing in line for government services.
Your alter ego is DJ Executive, right?
I’m actually a professional DJ. It shocks people, and my coworkers said I should share that fact. They said “it humanizes you and if you can bring that to the table and incorporate it authentically, it will be a winning combination.” By leveraging this alter ego, I get a chance to incorporate having fun and getting to know people on a different level. When you start to move away some of the barriers, we all bleed the same. It’s all red. We’re here for a common cause to take state-level services and make it a citizen-centric environment.
How has the effort to make the state more citizen-centric been going?
I’ve been fortunate of having the support of Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, especially with the creation of the Executive Order 2019-15D. That has really given me the ability to emphasize the collaboration. There’s four elements in that 2019-15D. I think I’m going to have it tattooed on my arm before I leave.
Number one: We wanted to make sure that for every state agency that we transform their websites onto a single common platform. We have 26 of the 32 rolled onto the IOP platform and we are on target to get the rest of those completed by the end of the year.
The other element is data sharing. Before this administration people held onto their data, but through that executive order, it said you must share the data by using the InnovateOhio platform. That has been a game-changer. We recently released in the middle of a pandemic, data.ohio.gov. I’m not sure how many other companies in the private industry have released major things like that to the public.
The third element was that of completing the seven remaining agencies that were not taking advantage of the state’s data center. So we consolidated those efforts and we finished it on March 15, 2020.
The last piece of that is the Ohio identification, where we’re making sure that you only have to create one ID.
This isn’t your decision, but Katrina Flory has been the state’s deputy CIO for a decade — is there any word on her possibly becoming the state CIO permanently?
In my resignation letter, I felt so strongly about Katrina and the team. I believe in teamwork. It takes a team to get to that next level and my team is one of the strongest teams in the country. I put them up against any other state team. We have a very, very deep bench, which includes Katrina as the deputy. She’s supported every single state CIO since the beginning of the state CIO title in Ohio. Right now she’s the interim CIO. Time will tell whether that will become permanent.
What attracted you to the role with Designer Brands?
To be honest, I wasn’t looking. It found me. I was so focused on the pandemic that I’ve said no this entire time. I didn’t want to leave my state in an awkward position. But what most attracted me was the ability to come in and continue to innovate. To take what I’ve learned today in state government, I fully appreciate that technology is a universal language. So I’m excited to apply this to something new.
I want to thank Gov. Mike DeWine for believing me and giving me an opportunity. This has been my greatest love, passion. This was a really tough decision. In fact, when I finally decided I was going to do it, I think I cried on everybody. I was telling my director, I was telling my chief of staff and every single time I was like, “I’m trying to pull it together.”
I’m going to miss working with the lovely talented men and women, IT Avengers, at Ohio. So I guess I’ll leave you with a big O-H…I-O.
This interview was edited and condensed.