Alex Pettit has a rare attribute, having served as chief information officer for more than one state – first Oklahoma and now Oregon.
In an interview with StateScoop conducted during the National Association of State Chief Information Officer spring conference, Pettit shared how his state wrapped up Cover Oregon and transitioned the state’s exchange to healthcare.gov, how it handles emerging technology and FirstNet, based on developments.
tateScoop: What have you done in the last year that you would consider innovative?
Well, our greatest challenge last year was rolling up the Cover Oregon system and then managing to sustain it through the end of the enrolllment, and all of the things that we needed to do to service the 80-some thousand folks who had signed up for insurance through it, to sustain it through the end of the calendar year and then to convert it over to healthcare.gov as we go forward. A lot of that took a lot of time and energy, and it was a very difficult environment knowing that we were wrapping up or shutting down a service, and trying to keep the team together and trying to keep us working toward that goal was a real challenging time for everyone.
SS: What are the top three priorities for you and your team this year?
Recently, Gov. [Kate] Brown has given me the state data center to manage, so [in March] she assigned that to me, and right now, we’ve established a standard process and are trying to raise the maturity level of the organization. That’s really going to be my goal this year for that group.
What are your biggest challenges right now? What are you hoping to learn from your colleagues at NASCIO this year?
It helps to know what other folks are prioritizing. The hardest thing is to know what to do and in what order. Right now, there’s a target rich environment that we live in as CIOs, so we have to be able to discern what it is that you can expect to really need your attention in the coming year. That’s what I come to this for, to find out what others see from their vantage points is the upcoming hot topic on things and where I ought to be getting resources rounded up and applied to address them.
How is your state evaluating and investing in emerging technologies?
It varies. The future is here, it’s just unevenly spread. The consequence is that there are some places, some pockets where you see a lot of organizations, particularly in more urbanized environments, that have more of those. In more rural environments, it’s difficult to even have bake sales to put equipment on a fire truck. So, one of the big challenges for states is how to equalize or disseminate that better.
We’re seeing pockets of innovation. More and more things are becoming mobile. The city of Portland is doing an enormous amount of things on the mobile venue, or on the mobile front, we haven’t done as many in the state yet.
Our biggest challenge is things like getting off of SSL 3 [Secure Socket Layer version 3.0, now known to have critical security flaws] and getting our user community to upgrade their browsers and systems so that they can apply for unemployment benefits through a more secure connection. The challenge is that a fifth of our population uses XP devices that only go up to a certain version of Explorer. I can’t bring the newer version of the connection up to date for them or I’d cut them off, so you have to tell people that you can’t file for unemployment benefits until you upgrade your computer.
How can federal, state and local government technology officials better collaborate?
The biggest thing for us is really with things like FirstNet, which is going to affect the states very much. There’s an appreciation that the value of the network is the number of subscribers. When we get a million people on a video system, the cost per unit falls, but the value of the radio system goes up exponentially.
FirstNet’s approach to this has been that they have to have a sustainability model. To have an additional charge [for rural departments] on top of [normal operating costs], many of these small groups will continue to use their land mobile radio systems rather than cut over to FirstNet and pay a fee for that.
I think that a business model needs to be articulated primarily by FirstNet, but also for any of these initiatives that the federal government wants us to take on so that we can figure out where the value of the investment outweighs the value of the product or service that they’re trying to provide.
They’ve done less than a good job on that, and there’s been less accountability required for that than I would’ve hoped to see from leadership in Washington, D.C.