Delaware IT agency elevates partnerships by embedding staff

Poor communication between a state’s information technology office and its customer agencies can be blamed for many stalled projects and operational shortcomings. To avoid these pitfalls, Delaware’s Department of Technology and Information places customer engagement officials within each customer agency to ensure those relationships stay solid.

“If we can engage with the customers and understand what their priorities are, who their customers are and the major objectives they’re trying to accomplish, then we can work with them to talk about the technology portion of that strategy and also we can bring the right partners to bear when applicable to create that win-win-win situation,” state Chief Information Officer James Collins says in a video interview with StateScoop.

Agencies allow those embedded employees to act as their technology directors who sit on their leadership teams. They hear directly from the business and can offer their technological expertise.

“So some of the larger agencies we have that type of customer engagement,” Collins says. “For some of the smaller agencies, we have customer engagement folks that may be assigned a couple agencies and they manage the relationship between us and them, making sure that we understand what their priorities are.”

Collins says he started another unique operation this year, which was to ask representatives from each of the other agencies to speak to his team about their priorities. The agencies were apprehensive at first, he says, worried they’d be bombarded by technical questions, but that’s the opposite of what Collins had in mind.

“We don’t want this to be a technology conversation,” Collins says. “Whatever presentation you would give to a rotary or a citizen group about what your agency is, that’s what we want to know. Because as we’re making technology decisions and we’re planning for the future, we want to make sure we’ve got your priorities as a part of that planning.”

The agencies agreed and it’s been a success, he says.

“It was great for the agencies to talk about what they do to us and I think it elevated our level of partnership and it was very educational for our team members. We learned some things we didn’t know and I think it’s those types of interactions that will deepen our partnerships,” Collins says. “I think it’s only when we’re operating in tandem like that that we’re actually going to be able to move forward.”

Collins on his top priorities:

“Everyone is feeling the demand to deliver digital government. And when I say that I mean a consistent digital experience for the citizen where it’s intelligent, it’s intuitive, it’s elegant.”

Collins on IT modernization:

“Modernization is alive and well in our state. We’re working with our Department of Finance to modernize all of the applications that support tax collection in the Division of Revenue. It’s somewhere around 100 applications that need to be modernized.”

Collins on how his role will change with emerging technology:

“I think it’s changing the way we do our job now or at least is helping us to deliver service. Right now, it’s mainly in the cybersecurity space.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ midyear conference in National Harbor, Maryland, in May 2019.