IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

State's Strategic Plan Lays Out Tech Goals, Challenges

Much of the report, “Vision 2023,” is fashioned as “challenge” statements, with bullet points addressing problems and recommending solutions.

The state has published “Vision 2023,” the statewide strategic plan “to efficiently and effectively use technology to meet our society’s goals, and make progress on the big, complex problems affecting us all.”

The report, published Tuesday by CDT, cites the challenges of managing and adapting technology in a time riven with uncertainty, and with a remote workforce. Much of the report is fashioned as “challenge” statements, with bullet points addressing problems and recommending solutions. It largely follows the format of “Vision 2020,” the strategic plan issued in November 2017.

“Vision 2023” also highlights three key principles — “the bedrock of how we use technology,” says the report, which follows an open letter from state Chief Information Officer (CIO) and CDT Director Amy Tong and state Deputy CIO Richard Rogers, who’s also CDT’s chief deputy director. The report notes that was written simply to keep it accessible, and that CDT will publish “full research insights” online soon.

Those three key principles are:

  • Put people first. “In 2020, putting people first meant a multi-agency team building in order to meet Californians’ need for understandable, accurate and up-to-date information. We achieved this by doing the hard work to understand what Californians and the public servants working for them needed, applying disciplines like user research, analytics, product management, continuous delivery and more.”
  • Continuous, timely improvement. “COVID-19 showed us how public services are ready to adapt quickly and flexibly in changing circumstances. But those improvements must be timely, too. Across all of government, we must develop and nurture a culture and the skills needed to update and improve systems and services every day, rather than waiting for large, complete replacements of IT systems.” 
  • Working together beats working alone. “We saw the best of public service when small multi-disciplinary teams came together from different departments and agencies to solve big challenges. With a common goal of putting people first, diverse disciplines, state staff, civic technologists and private-sector partners designed and delivered compassionate, human-centered services at speed, improving every day through fast feedback.” 
After those three guideposts, the report lays out the state's key goals and challenges for technology:

  • Deliver easy-to-use, fast, dependable and secure public services. “Claimants shouldn’t have to understand the structure of a department to receive benefits they’ve already paid for,” said Carol Williams, chief deputy director of operations for the Employment Development Department. Williams is among several state government executives quoted in the report.
  • Ensure public services are equitable and inclusive. “It feels like we assume the public are upper-middle-class white people with college degrees,” said Christian Griffith, chief consultant for the Assembly Budget Committee. “For example,” the report states, “many websites are written at a post-graduate reading level. This is typical of government writing. Simplifying the information we share with the public to a sixth-grade reading level makes it easier for all Californians to understand and engage with their government.” This section also addresses the private sector, asking how the state can “create an equitable, inclusive and diverse playing field” for tech vendors. “In general, our technology policy and procurement environment incentivizes large technology procurements (e.g., tens or hundreds of millions of dollar “projects”) instead of smaller procurements (e.g., submillion-dollar “teams”), which results in a small pool of eligible vendors that may not deliver the best results.” It states that procurements focused on approaches or solutions that have already been decided limit innovation, speed and quality of problem-solving, and may exclude newer, smaller vendors with new or innovative approaches.
  • Make common technology easy to access, use and reuse across government. “Our scale is so big,” says Russ Nichols, agency information officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, who’s also quoted in the report. “We have over 60,000 employees. Per user, year over year, that all adds up.” This section also addresses project management: “The way technology projects are started and overseen, including through the Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL), frequently leads to large technology projects and fully custom technology, or heavily customized commercial off-the-shelf technology. This approach in turn leads to projects taking too long to deliver value.” And on procurement: “Reaching a goal of delivering value to users within six months of contract award means programs need ways to be able to quickly solve common problems with easily available, proven common infrastructure or services. But repeated implementation without assessing lessons learned means that technology projects are not benefiting from avoiding errors or not replicating poor processes.” In addition, this section adds: “Departments expressed a need for clear, consistent and flexible statewide standards on subjects such as data ownership and use, cloud services and graded approaches to risk. … All state entities are under budget pressure to do more with less. Negotiating deals individually at the program or department level for common state requirements misses the state’s opportunity to use its purchasing power to get better value. But these larger deals, like CDT’s Vendor Hosted Subscription Services (VHSS) and DGS’ Software Licensing Program (SLP), don’t exist for a wide enough range of technology yet, or don’t yet provide better value for money.”
  • “Build digital government more quickly and more effectively,” the report advises. “The COVID-19 pandemic forced our government to adapt rapidly and rethink how we serve 40 million Californians. We had to adapt our older technology and implement new solutions to help people quickly, sometimes in just days. In our work, we found departments hungry to use technology to dramatically improve service delivery and outcomes. But they felt that technology is not doing as much as it should. We heard from leaders and program teams about how it is difficult to make such improvements quickly and effectively. ... Some of the foundations of our government are large complex programs. These programs usually involve older technology infrastructure (“legacy” technology, often running on state mainframes). Achieving our vision requires successful, replicable approaches so these kinds of programs can quickly and efficiently meet people’s continually changing needs.”
  • Build confident, empowered multi-disciplinary teams. “Much of the state’s critical IT infrastructure and tools were created years or even decades ago,” the report says. “While in many cases the underlying systems are stable, newer technology added to these systems is often complex to manage, difficult to change and does not scale to meet demand. … The state has few successful models for continuously updating legacy infrastructure. But the default approach of replacing legacy systems wholesale (a “big bang”) doesn’t work either, with a high risk of failure and increased cost, complexity and time to deliver. Many programs face large, complex problems like operational data exchange. But the state has yet to embrace fully and decisively successful public- and private-sector approaches, like small-scale interventions, solving immediate, practical problems one by one as part of a long-term strategy.”
The report concludes with a call to action for state workers as well as those in the tech industry to fill three roles, the third of which is open to private-sector participants:

  • Leaders, who will be “responsible for solving the challenges and able to gain executive support to invest significant time to lead the initiative.” 
  • Doers, who are “willing and able to roll up their sleeves to help deliver key results.” This role “typically overlaps with your day job” and requires “support from your leadership team to dedicate the time to do the work well. This will require not doing other things.”
  • Advisers: Those in the public and private sectors “who have relevant expertise or experience that can help shape successful initiatives.”
“We intentionally put out challenges to get ideas from our best and brightest to help solve these challenges,” a CDT spokesman told Techwire on Wednesday. “State employees will primarily lead and do the work, though there are instances particularly with local governments where we actively want their participation. Knowledge, leadership, accessibility, time to devote and earnest desire to solve challenges will be the determining factors as to the roles individuals will choose.”

Those interested in participating should click the “share feedback” button at the bottom of the “What’s Next” page. CDT will begin reviewing applications at the end of January.

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.