Grow beyond the transactional mindset, Maine CIO urges

Many people view their roles merely as transactional, a list of inputs and outputs for which they are responsible, says Maine Chief Information Officer Fred Brittain. But the capacity of data to influence policies and programming can and should shift how people think about their roles, he tells StateScoop in a recent video interview.

Brittain, a former associate CIO for the University of Maine System who was appointed as state CIO in March, uses an example from higher education to explain a common dynamic seen in organizations everywhere. He uses the example of a university registrar who might view his job as comprised of a series of simple tasks: filling classes with students, ensuring faculty can access lists of those students and eventually reporting out transcripts. 

But Brittain argues that if there’s a piece of software that can predict which students are at risk of falling behind, the function of improving student outcomes should be layered on top of those transactional functions performed by the registrar.

“So there’s where you start to use a comprehensive data analysis program to actually improve your results for the people you’re directly serving,” Brittain says. “But the registrar says, ‘That’s not my job.’ So we have to change the registrar’s thinking to say, ‘My job is to successfully get from beginning to end of their experience.’”

The same principle can be applied to state government, he says.

“We need to start rethinking the systems that we work on day-to-day. We’re not just doing this for the sake of the transaction. This thing has value elsewhere,” Brittain says. “Establishing data governance to be able to leverage that demonstrating through a couple of high-value targets where we can say we’re going to bring multiagency data together to help do something great for the citizens.”

The CIO’s job, he says, is establishing the proper governance and technology framework to enable all of those things to happen.

“One of my dreams is the citizen portal,” he says. “Without all these pieces put together, that will never come to pass, so this is a foundational piece.”

Brittain on his top priorities and projects:

“Top priorities for us in Maine is cyber is probably number one.” 

Brittain on IT reorganization:

“This [enterprise IT] model has been around long enough that the negatives of the model are coming forward.”

Brittain on how he sees his role changing in the future:

“What I think a big part of my job with innovation is just the enablement of innovation.”

These videos were produced by StateScoop at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ annual conference in Nashville, Tennessee, in October 2019.