Amaya Capellán was appointed new state CIO and deputy secretary for the Office of Information Technology (OIT) in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania at the end of July 2023. The former vice president at Comcast, the telecommunications and media conglomerate, understands her charter – digital transformation. As described by her immediate boss, Secretary of Administration, Neil Weaver, Capellán’s extensive experience in the private-sector will do her well in her new position.

“Amaya is a proven leader with an impressive track record of digital transformation throughout her career,” said Weaver. “Her breadth of experience delivering results in the private sector will help us advance the Shapiro Administration’s priorities for digital transformation and customer service, and further solidify Pennsylvania’s place as a leader among states in information technology.”

She fills the position of our friend, John MacMillian, Pennsylvania’s previous state CIO for the last seven years. Like Capellán, he came to the public sector after nearly 20 years at IBM.

According to the press release announcing her appointment, the Shapiro Administration is committed to transforming state government to serve Pennsylvanians more effectively and efficiently. Last spring, Governor Shapiro signed an executive order creating the Commonwealth Office of Digital Experience (CODE PA) within OIT to focus on making it easier for Pennsylvanians to find and interact with the Commonwealth’s digital services.

Additionally, she’ll lead efforts to improve online services and user experience, be responsible for policies, and also standards governing the management, use, and transformation of information technology resources.

Capellán will also have direct oversight for large, enterprise-wide initiatives such as compute services, shared services, accessibility services, open data and data management, cybersecurity, innovation, and enterprise technology support, per the release – quite the agenda.

I had an opportunity to meet Capellán at the recent NASCIO Annual Conference in Minneapolis and interview her about these priorities.

“This is s a new chapter for me, in the public sector. My career has been so far 100 percent in the private sector, really focused around delivering great digital experiences throughout my career. The range was from startups to consulting firms and I was also in the private sector consulting world, working with clients like HP, Verizon, and others,” she said.

Then it was with Comcast, the bane of many, from Seinfeld to your last move. Hers was a different perspective, as expected.

“And then, of course, I really enjoyed seven years driving digital transformation at scale for the over 30 million customers that Comcast has. With that experience in the private sector, I’ve grown to be an outcome-driven leader who really develops strategies that mobilize teams to deliver results. And I’m so honored for this opportunity to turn the page onto the public sector part of my career, to bring those skills to bear.”

OIT has a budget of about $300 million dollars and 1,400 employees. “Now, that’s not to say the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania only spends $300 million on technology, a lot of technology spend is driven by the agencies. So, there’s much more beyond that, probably around a billion dollars,” said Capellán.

Pennsylvania, like most states, does not include the state CIO in the governor’s Cabinet, unfortunately. OIT is within the Office of Administration, which does report directly into the governor’s office and encompasses both HR and the IT organization.

Capellán understands. “I think, especially in my transformational role, it’s great to be right alongside my HR peers, because a lot of this is going to be about people. So, having Secretary Weaver supporting and helping me drive that change, I’m realizing how beneficial this is.”

Capellán pointed out three major initiatives she’s excited to support. First, the governor founded this team, CODE PA within OIT by executive order last year, to reimagine how Pennsylvania delivers digital service. That team of in-house practitioners, that Capellán is used to from the private sector, bring skills like product and project management to project build in the agile fashion. The team is to deliver on Governor Shapiro’s mandate to facilitate permits, licensing, and certification.

Pennsylvania, like many states, has significant backlogs in these areas. The wait times for many of these permits, for example, to start a new business, are like that. “There’s thousands of examples across the state, and they’re really such poor experiences for business. Only 3 percent of the permits in the Department of Environmental Protection are delivered digitally today. That’s a huge opportunity and Pennsylvania plans to address that.”

Her second initiative involves a very promising technology – generative AI. “I was thrilled to work with the governor and his office on an exciting executive order that we announced and he just signed a few weeks ago.”

“I quoted a Salesforce study that cites that 49 percent of people globally have tried generative AI with about a third of those people using it frequently, I think weekly. It’s just another great statistic that illustrates how quickly this technology is spreading.”

Capellán’s last priority is the workplace, and she’s excited to utilize the power of generative AI to empower her workforce.

“We have a governance board that’s been instituted and is just getting started. The first goal is to find and identify ways we can equip the workforce along with key use cases that can help them work more effectively,” she said.

Moving on to another issue that has everyone’s attention, in the public sector especially, is IT modernization. Pennsylvania, just like so many other states, has legacy platforms that sorely needed to be modernized. “Oh, absolutely. I’m certainly in a discovery mode, and two months in I haven’t found all of them yet. But I’m getting the lay of the land and have had the opportunity to dig in a little bit as to learn more.”

Many also tend to be some of the Commonwealth’s bigger, more critical systems. “I could spend my entire run as CIO attempting to modernize everything and get nowhere. Just stand still and spend a lot of money. So, it’s certainly crucial, especially if you think about cybersecurity, and managing such a complex footprint of outdated technologies on a prem cloud, it gets really challenging.”

As a result, Capellán plans to tie those modernization projects to two things: cybersecurity and again, outcomes. “I’m going to be kind of boring and just say the same thing, but like outcomes, where those agency applications that are underperforming and mission critical, we need to drive more impact, so there’s a clear case for modernization investment.”

It appears that the new IT boss in Harrisburg has a full plate and the determination to succeed.

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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.