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For CDT's New Digital Academy, Innovation Is Key

The state’s new Digital Services Innovation Academy kicks off its first class this month. It's modeled after the successful Information Technology Leadership Academy.

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“We owe it to the public to provide better service,” said California’s Chief Innovation Officer Scott Gregory. “We wanted a way to do government better.”

That was the genesis of the state’s new Digital Services Innovation Academy (DSIA), which kicks off with its first class this month.

Gregory and Gretchen Williams, deputy director of CDT’s Office of Professional Development, told Techwire that they patterned the DSIA curriculum loosely after the state’s successful Information Technology Leadership Academy (ITLA), which just graduated its 25th class last month.

“ITLA has been the flagship,” said Williams, who also oversees CDT’s Project Management Leadership Academy and other professional development. “We wanted to invest at multiple levels.”

ITLA was conceived as a way to train state IT staff to step up into leadership roles — chief information officers and chief technology officers, for example. The curriculum is more comprehensive in that it emphasizes not only technical skills, but also “soft skills” such as managing people and public speaking.

The DSIA’s emphasis is more on the practical side — and a look at the topics covered bears that out: Data Analytics, UI/UX Design, Development Methods, Ideation, and Communication. The website explains that the new academy is a nine-week program “designed to introduce the tools and skills required to transform a business problem from concept to product using design and development principles found in modern digital service development.”

“DSIA students expand their skills in a variety of areas critical for the state’s digital workforce through classroom instruction, a digital services challenge, and exposure to the Department of Technology’s Innovation Lab,” the site explains. “As they develop and enhance their skills in the areas of design, data analytics, ideation, and platforms/development tools, students will also learn about effective communication methods, team dynamics, and effective change management.”

The goal, Gregory said, is to have state websites look and feel more like what the public is used to and expects — “like Amazon or Zappos” — with intuitive navigation and easily understood prompts.

The course will include classroom instruction at CDT's Rancho Cordova training center, labs, offsite field trips and collaborative projects.

Like ITLA, the admission process is competitive. It costs a state department or agency $4,000 to send a worker through the program. Participants will be away from their day-to-day jobs for three or four days a week during the academy, which runs from May 17 through July 20. The application period for the first class is closed.

Instructors, in addition to Gregory, will include state IT experts as well as some industry representatives. 

“Government’s never on the tip of the spear,” Gregory said, “but it doesn’t mean that we have to build antiquated services.”

As Gregory and Williams discuss the coming collaboration among coders, developers, graphic artists, communications experts and others from various disciplines, their enthusiasm is evident.

Said Williams: “From a community perspective, I think it’s phenomenal. The possibilities are phenomenal.”

Dennis Noone is Executive Editor of Industry Insider. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in Northern California.