California CIO Amy Tong this week unveiled a state IT modernization plan, creation of a new technology innovation office, and a series of broadband initiatives at the California Department of Technology’s (CDT) annual Vendor Day program.

The popular vendor day program – which was canceled last year due to pandemic concerns – drew more than 200 people, and serves as a way to give both the national and state technology vendor community more information about how they can partner with the state.

CDT Office Move Hints at Remote Work Policy

Tong also revealed a plan to move CDT headquarters next month from downtown Sacramento across the river to The Ziggurat, a ten-story, visually provocative, stepped pyramidal office building in West Sacramento.

“The Zig,” as Sacramento natives refer to it, has for the past 20 years exclusively housed the state’s Department of General Services – a sister department within the Government Operations Agency. The impending co-location is a fairly good sign that California’s state government remote workforce environment during the pandemic is not disappearing as COVID recedes.

Tech Innovation Office

Creation of the new Technology Innovation Office within CDT finally consolidates a number of innovation offices that had been scattered around other parts of state government over the last few years. The CDT Chief Innovation Officer is Rick Klau, appointed by Gov. Gavin  Newsom earlier this year. Klau spent the last 13 years at Google, and it’s no doubt an understatement that he brings a new perspective to state government.

“Rick’s group is kind of the incubator to jumpstart new development and really push technology in the state, at the heart of what’s possible, and to help departments get up to speed quickly on their new projects,” Tong said.

As a former California CIO, let me offer that when it comes to innovation, Klau certainly will find a target-rich environment in Sacramento.

Broadband Deputy

Tong also announced Scott Adams as the new deputy director for broadband and digital literacy. He spent the last several years consulting, and eight years before that with Comcast.

“Scott’s got a huge task in front of him with broadband,” Tong said. “As we’ve all learned through the pandemic, if we didn’t know before, having access to anything from telemedicine to school to, frankly, being able to order groceries, or talk with family abroad, connectivity is vitally important.”

The scope of the future broadband-related work depends, as always, on funding.

Gov. Newsom slotted in $7 billion for broadband in his January budget proposal, and until the new fiscal budget begins on July 1, it’s still not clear how much will come from the state general fund, or Federal stimulus sources. Tong was quite accurate when she observed, “Scott’s gonna have to work some magic.”

IT Modernization Fund

Finally, there’s that new modernization fund, specifically labeled by Tong as a stabilization fund, but regardless of names, it still smells sweet especially to vendors.

And the fund has the potential to provide a timely, consistent and critical long-term improvement in government operations. Modernization funding has been a popular topic in the Federal government long before COVID, but due to the publicly visible strain the pandemic posed to legacy applications especially in state unemployment insurance systems, it has become a discussion front and center in state government IT circles as well.

However, Tong explained that the CDT budget request of approximately $70 million over the next three years to stabilize critical services and IT Infrastructure as originally proposed back in January has a distinct difference to the Federal version. This stabilization fund will enable the CDT to identify the department applications that are mission critical – not necessarily departments with legacy systems only.

“We want to make that clear, it is for mission critical systems,” Tong said. “So, by working with agency CIOs and department CIOs of the program departments, we’ll prioritize where our stability assessments can be done and conducted in a proactive manner,” she said.

In this way a mitigation strategy can be developed which will lay out a path for the program department to quickly get in front of their system. Tong explained, “This is designed to avoid a scenario where things become a crisis.” Like they have had with unemployment systems.

While this sounds like good plan, I’m afraid the budget is a bit paltry especially for California. Tong admitted that the original budget was being reviewed, and intimated it could be augmented. All the same, it will take significantly more dollars to be effective.

I still joke about responding to questions about the difference in my tenures as both Massachusetts’ and California’s first CIO. I said the issues were pretty much the same but California’s issues always came with three or four more zeros at the end.

The California stabilization fund will need at least two, or better, three more zeros to work. However, that’s not meant as a criticism. Garnering support from the governor, the budget folks and the legislature for significant IT spending increases, anytime, has always been a challenge, and not just in California. Tong should be applauded for not only recognizing the need for modernization or stabilization, but for spending her political capital to get a funding mechanism started in the first place.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.