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As Child Support Department Matures, CIO Weighs Its Gains, Challenges

“I would say the cloud migration was huge,” says Catherine Lanzaro, CIO for the California Department of Child Support Services. “We were working with Microsoft and our partners, and Microsoft Azure gave us new life.”

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Catherine Lanzaro, the chief information officer for the California Department of Child Support Services, offered insights to vendors about what’s working, what’s on the horizon, and how best to contact her. She spoke Thursday at an Industry Insider — California Member Briefing in Sacramento. Jennifer Chan, the CIO for the California State Lottery, was the other speaker; coverage of her presentation will appear in Industry Insider — California this week.

Catherine Lanzaro.
Catherine Lanzaro
What it does: “The California Department of Child Support Services oversees a network of 47 local child support agencies that provide services to the general public at the county level,” the department says. “Having a case with Child Support Services creates a record of all child support payments, provides a neutral go-between for parents, and can help both parents avoid court and assist with navigating the child support system. Child Support Services staff act in the public interest and do not represent either side of a child support case.”

How it started: The Department of Child Support Services began, according to Lanzaro, as what was then called a welfare reimbursement program. In 1999, legislation was passed that created the Department of Child Support Services. “It was just a little itty-bitty department when we started out,” Lanzaro said. DCSS is governed by the federal Office of Child Support Services, from which DCSS receives two-thirds of its funding.

Who does it: DCSS has 600 employees in headquarters, about half of whom work in IT. Statewide, the system has 6,500 users across the state’s 58 counties, for whom DCSS also provides IT support services.


Lanzaro said the last couple of years have been pivotal for DCSS.

“One thing that was a big transformation,” she said. “This last year in the Legislature, we had a change in the law for how we administer the program and paying back arrears. We did a lot of evaluation using data … and it turns out that as a state, we are spending more money to try to collect uncollectible debt than we are to actually helping families. … Next year in April, we are going to start sending out money to families … so instead of sending that money back to the General Fund, we’re going to be actually sending it to the families and really helping the families. And that’s the kind of transformation I’m talking about.”

Another significant change, she said, was the migration to the cloud.

“I would say the cloud migration was huge. We just kicked off a cloud migration project on Feb. 1 of 2020. And then we all went home (to work remotely) about three or four weeks later. So we were working with Microsoft and our partners, and Microsoft Azure gave us new life. We did that two years ago. We have full disaster recovery; we’re working together with Microsoft to get full disaster recovery. We essentially had no disaster recovery, in my mind, prior to moving to the cloud. We then, in 2022, got disaster recovery down to a couple of days. And now, towards the end of the year working with Microsoft, we’re going to have high availability, and we’re going to be down to hours for our real disaster recovery. And then the next thing that we’re working on is the actual application, breaking it up, optimizing it in the cloud. Those are the next things on the docket.

“I just want to give a little shout-out: Our system was developed with the partnership of IBM and CGI,” she said. “It is a strong, robust system. We just migrated it to the Microsoft Azure cloud two years ago this month. And we are looking at making sure that our application is also modernized, too.

“Another contract that we’re in right now with CGI is digital transformation, information, government governance. All of this change and transformation takes data. And we’ve got to get our data in a better place in order for us to create those outreach campaigns, make those data-driven decisions. And so actually we’re one year in for three-year contracts right now with CGI; they’re really helping us out.

“And one thing that most of our vendors find out when they work with us — whether it’s Microsoft, CGI or Gartner — we’re a very hands-on organization. We do not like to just have someone come in and help us and then get it up and running; we’re going to ask a lot of questions, and we’re going to be very inquisitive. Because we know that when the contract is over, we have the responsibility to take care of all of it. What’s great about this digital transformation contract that we have with CGI is, they’re teaching us along the way, and they understand that that’s how we operate; that’s our culture.”

Lanzaro said the one thing topping her list of needs is a mobile app: “We should be having some procurements come out very, very soon for the mobile app planning.”

“The other thing that we’re working on is a national enrollment for child support. We’ve been working with SimpliGov, and we have a simplified enrollment process making it easier for people to get our services. It has gotten such notoriety on the national level for child support that now other states want a national enrollment. So, we’re also pursuing that. You should see some procurements coming out about that.”

“We also need room to shift gears. That’s another thing that we’ve been doing lately. It’s really impossible to know what it’s going to look like in 10 years … so we have left room for kind of an adaptive strategy. We worked with Gartner on that and kind of opened our minds to, you know, make sure that there’s room for shifting gears, and as long as it’s leading us to our transformation, or we’re going to be helping Californians, then then that’s what we work on.”


“Don’t call me. I’m really just an email junkie,” Lanzaro said. “For those of you that know me, I’m pretty fast on replying to emails. … I’m a highly collaborative person, and I want to see us at the Health and Human Services Agency work together to give people that whole-person care. I would just say focus on that and send me those emails.”

She added: “One of the challenges we’re facing is, we have a giant database of somewhere around like 8 terabytes of data. And it’s pretty well defined, but it could be more defined, which is where CGI is coming in and helping us. Tableau has come along with the dashboards and is working with CGI to set that up. That has really been a game-changer for us. … That’s where our vendors really help us.”
Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies including USA Today in Washington, D.C.