Virginia CIO Nelson Moe seeks COO so he can focus on 'relationship building'

Virginia Chief Information Officer Nelson Moe (StateScoop)

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Now that Virginia Chief Information Officer Nelson Moe has detangled the state from its long-term technology contract with Northrop Grumman, he’d like to take on a more public-facing role as the state’s top IT official.

Moe, who’s been in the job since 2015, told StateScoop the first three years of his tenure were largely about “keeping the lights on” and managing the state’s strained relationship with Northrop Grumman, which had been Virginia’s sole IT vendor under a $2.4 billion contract signed in 2005.

“That took a lot of energy,” Moe said of the contract negotiations and lawsuits that eventually ended the contract.

Virginia agreed last month to pay Northrop $35.8 million to end its agreement early, allowing the commonwealth to implement a new multi-vendor IT model that allows it to acquire equipment and services from a variety of sources. Now, Moe is searching for a chief operating officer with the authority to manage daily incident response and IT coordination so he can devote time to helping agencies understand how the Virginia Information Technology Agency’s new process works.

After nearly 13 years of Virginia’s IT systems dominated by Northrop, Nelson said he expects this change to come with a learning curve for agency heads.

“Instead of managing one animal in a zoo, we have to manage eight,” Moe said. “I’ve done operations for 40 years, so now I get a chance to be more of a spokesman for the model.”

Moe said he plans to meet with department heads to explain the benefits of a multi-vendor model — its flexibility and how it enables the state to adapt quickly to changes in the industry — but also to hear from agencies what their challenges are and what new technologies they may want to purchase as a service. That wasn’t an option previously, Moe said, but now if agencies asks for blockchain, drones, or artificial intelligence, the infrastructure is in place to add new contracts that can meet common needs statewide.

Moe said he’s had deputy CIOs to help him, but none have had the authority to manage daily service issues as a COO would be authorized. It’s a fairly common arrangement, he said, pointing to Texas, Georgia and Oklahoma as other states that have similar positions.

In addition to acting as a spokesman for IT within the state, Moe may also act peripherally as a spokesman for the merits of a multi-vendor model, especially if Virginia’s rocky past with Northrop Grumman hasn’t already acted as enough of a cautionary tale on its own.

“It may not be for everybody,” Moe said, “but if you’re looking for a consolidated environment, and as CIOs become more and more a syndicator and a services broker, this model works the best I think.”

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Nelson Moe, Northrop Grumman, Virginia, Virginia Information Technologies Agency
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