Vermont CIO looks forward to modernization projects

Vermont CIO John Quinn (Scoop News Group)

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Vermont Chief Information Officer John Quinn said Wednesday the state will soon embark on more than a dozen major projects following the adoption of a budget that, among other things, funds IT modernization efforts.

Speaking to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers virtual midyear conference, Quinn said the new budget will benefit a range of state agencies, many of which still run on 40- or 50-year-old mainframe systems. Among the agencies that stand to be modernized include the state Department of Motor Vehicles, the unemployment insurance program and the Office of the Defender General, Vermont’s public-defender service.

Last week, Vermont legislators adopted a $7.3 billion budget — bolstered by about $600 million in federal coronavirus relief funds — that included $52 million for the modernization projects, though it stopped short of creating a new permanent modernization fund that would be replenished over time.

“We set aside $52 million and chose the first 12 projects to let the legislature know what we’re thinking,” Quinn told the NASCIO audience.

Gov. Phil Scott proposed the special fund in January as part of his budget draft, but it was not approved as Vermont lawmakers closed their session last week.

While Quinn told StateScoop in January that the Agency for Digital Services that he runs was still determining how to keep the proposed fund flush, he said Wednesday that new revenues could come from “administrative changes” that did not require new tax or fee revenue.

“We hope to continue to work with the legislature over the summer and in the next session to get it established,” Quinn told StateScoop in an email.

The budget enacted last week targets 16 modernization projects, up from Quinn’s original agenda. Vermont has long attempted to upgrade its unemployment system, which sits on a decades-old IBM mainframe. Before COVID-19, the state had spent more than $10 million over a decade trying to collaborate with other states that had already adopted cloud-based systems, only to abandon those efforts in February 2020, just weeks before being overwhelmed by pandemic-induced demand.

But Quinn, who was appointed in 2017 as Vermont moved to consolidate IT operations, pointed to modernization successes, including its 2019 overhaul of Medicaid eligibility that replaced a paper process — that featured a 120-day waiting period — to a digital solution that processes applications within 20 days.

He also said the needs of the pandemic, during which he said ADS set up more than 30 new applications, revealed the importance of choosing good vendors.

“The takeaway for me, and one of the biggest things I learned that showed itself in the pandemic, is picking strategic partners,” he said. “Making sure you’re aligned with what the vision is overall, and making sure vendors understand that overall.”

Correction: A previous version of this story reported that Vermont’s budget created a special IT modernization fund. The budget funded several modernization projects, but did not establish the separate fund.

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IT Modernization, John Quinn, NASCIO, NASCIO Midyear 2021, Vermont
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