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Covered California Deputy CIO: ‘I Do See a Change in the Intersection of IT and Innovation’

An image of Dave Krause, deputy CIO for Covered California, next to a quote that reads: "Like many modern agencies, we contend with a sizable quantity of data. To realize a more transformational usage of data, we need to raise the maturity of our data management and analytic capabilities."
As part of Industry Insider — California’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Dave Krause is deputy chief information officer at Covered California, a role he has had since August 2022. Krause is returning to public-sector work following a private-sector sabbatical, during which he was most recently information services business relationship manager at Driscoll’s, according to LinkedIn. Previous roles include serving as manager of web development and applications programming at the University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources division, in Davis, from August 2014-February 2019, followed by time as its interim CIO from March-October 2019.

Krause has a bachelor’s degree in English from California State University, Sacramento, where he graduated magna cum laude. His licenses and certifications include being certified as a Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute, and at Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) Foundation Level by Pink Elephant.

Industry Insider — California: As deputy CIO at your organization, how do you describe your role? How have your role and responsibilities changed in recent years in terms of their intersection with IT and innovation?

Krause: As deputy CIO at Covered California, I oversee enterprise data and analytics, application development, consumer technology solutions, enterprise project management, business relationship management, and our eligibility and enrollment systems. Thanks to incredibly talented and driven people on these teams, I am able to focus on strategy, innovation, total experience, and operational excellence. I’ve been with Covered California for almost one year, and we are actively pursuing innovation on a few fronts. Also, I do see a change in the intersection of IT and innovation more broadly. Instead of creating independent teams focused on innovation or looking to a traditional R&D function to deliver new value, leaders are exploring how we can bake innovation into the culture and everyday activities. From my perspective, this means empowering all personnel to continuously explore opportunities to innovate, to find the problems both small and large that are present in any organization. Whenever there is a conversation about how to do something, or a planning session, or some unpleasant customer feedback, there is an opportunity to innovate. I don’t see innovation as limited to exploring how we might deploy a revolutionary new piece of technology like GenAI or augmented reality. Working on new ways to develop trust with our business partners, learning to become better storytellers, improving sensemaking capabilities, and iterating towards a frictionless consumer experience are all critical areas in which we should continuously innovate.

IICA: Does your organization have a strategic plan, and may we hyperlink to it? How big a role do you personally play in writing that strategic plan?

Krause: Covered California recently completed the development of its first strategic plan since its inception in 2013. While the three-year plan is not currently published, we intend to begin tracking activities against [it] as soon as September. Our CIO participated in most of the planning sessions where the primary goals and objectives were defined. My role during this process was to help clarify any goals and objectives requiring IT support and assist with the development of milestones which we will use to track our progress. Our data strategy and consumer experience initiatives are both components of the strategic plan.

IICA: What big initiatives or projects are coming up? What sorts of developing opportunities and RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Krause: As noted, Covered California intends to soon release a three-year strategic plan, which includes several initiatives requiring IT support. Two that come to mind that many other folks are thinking deeply on are data strategy and consumer experience. Covered California plans to send out a request for proposals looking for a vendor-partner to assist us in developing a comprehensive data strategy and implementation road map. Like many modern agencies, we contend with a sizable quantity of data. We turn that data into information that leaders can use to make decisions or plans but not at the velocity or scale we’d prefer. To realize a more transformational usage of data, we need to raise the maturity of our data management and analytic capabilities. Internally, we can detail the broad deliverables of a data strategy like data governance, quality, access and more. However, we recognize the need for expertise in creating a strategy that makes sense for our current culture and future strategic initiatives. Further, we also acknowledge that our chances of successfully delivering the outcomes of a data strategy are increased with a rational, iterative implementation road map. With regard to consumer experience, Covered California operates and continuously tunes several engagement channels, each with its own set of technologies, analytics and support functions. To bring more consistency to the overall consumer experience, we are recruiting for a new chief of consumer technology solutions role to begin the process of unifying everything from our branding, [user interface design/user experience design] UI/UX, and underlying technologies which power our chatbot and interactive voice response functions. We see this as a great opportunity to begin strategically deploying new technologies like GenAI to improve efficiencies, create that consistent consumer experience, and reach more diverse audiences.

IICA: In your opinion, what should local government be doing more of in technology?

Krause: Even before reading President [Joe] Biden’s Executive Order 14058, I’ve been obsessed with the concept of administrative burden as it relates to business process design. As we continue adding new features and functionality to systems, more and more burden is likely to be placed on users to complete tasks. When these systems are not regularly accessed by users, task completion becomes more challenging. Recruitment systems, financial management systems, and travel systems are all examples of systems which may not be accessed frequently enough by users for them to become truly proficient. Many process steps arrive in response to some organizational policy, but sometimes these new process steps are added to increase efficiencies for the business process owners. Moreover, how we create process designs or decide to add new features is not clear to our users. It’s just “another thing” they must do. If we are trusted, strategic partners to the business, we can use our relationships to collaborate with them on understanding the impacts of those process choices. My obsession with administrative burden hits a fever pitch when we zoom out and look at the full continuum of burden. A small, new feature that we introduce may seem trivial, like adding another input field to a form, an additional approval checkbox to a digital signature page, or moving from one to two clicks to complete a task. However, when we consider the total experience of our users across all systems, services and processes, these burdens stack rather than coalesce. Many IT departments develop and recruit talent with skills in UI/UX, business process engineering, business analysis, and enterprise architecture, making us uniquely suited to collaborate with the business to help understand the totality of administrative burden and work to reduce it.

Editor’s Note: Find information on Executive Order 14058 here.

IICA: How do you define “digital transformation?” How far along is your organization in that process, and how will you know when it’s finished?

Krause: I’d like to see the words “digital transformation” replaced with something which more accurately describes what happens. Digitization is only one component. Business processes need to be reimagined, teams need to be reformed, beliefs must be changed. Digitization is likely the easiest part of a business transformation. That said, digital transformation is not merely an efficiency gain. As MIT Professor George Westerman points out, we should think of it as evolving from a caterpillar to a butterfly — a fundamental and holistic reimagining of what we do and/or who we are. He goes on to suggest that execs don’t think about butterflies, only faster caterpillars. Perhaps this is a bit pithy, but I believe Westerman would consider his statement more a call to action than a condemnation. As with understanding administrative burden or looking for innovation throughout the organization, we must collaborate with our business partners to reimagine our work. What is it we really do? Who are we really? Such ideations are crucial to create a business transformation. For Covered California, we are transforming on several fronts. Recently, we completed major overhauls to the CalHEERS [California Healthcare Eligibility, Enrollment, and Retention System] platform, the system supporting eligibility, enrollment, and retention for the California Health Benefit Exchange [also known as Covered California], Medi-Cal, and Healthy Families. These overhauls include modernizing our infrastructure on AWS, building out a modular architecture, and leveraging human-centered design, allowing Covered California and our partners to improve the experience for Californians. As I mentioned earlier, our data strategy initiative is also expected to be transformational for Covered California. A primary goal is to become a more data-driven organization. Only part of this plan will involve new technologies. The majority will be in changing who we are and what we do.

IICA: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Krause: We have roughly 120 state employees in IT at Covered California, but we would not be able to deliver value the way we do without our partners and vendors who share the workload and funding. For example, CalHEERS alone draws support from over 800 partners and contractors, and Covered California partners with DHCS in producing and funding the platform. On the enterprise side (everything that is not CalHEERS), our budget is around $37 million.

IICA: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Krause: I respond well to personalized content. I receive many emails from vendors that are not unique to Covered California’s needs or business. These usually go right into the bin. However, if someone tries to understand what we do, I am much more likely to respond. Due to the nature of our work, there is a lot of information on our websites, social media, and in government policy. A vendor who puts in a small amount of effort to see if their product aligns to our needs or creates a highly targeted message will always get more attention from me.

IICA: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Krause: Since I’ve only been on the job for less than a year, I don’t have many examples to draw on. However, the restructuring currently underway for our enterprise program support functions, to bring more focus on consumer experience and proactive IT support, are exciting changes for the organization. I am also pleased with how well the IT leaders have responded to my obsession with relationships and administrative burden.

IICA: What has surprised you most this year in government technology?

Krause: GenAI is the easy choice, as its disruptions are still not fully understood but will be significant. As someone returning to public-sector work after a sabbatical in the private sector, I am surprised by the strong desire, at least at Covered California, to be innovative and the support to me and my teams in pursuing innovation. I’m also impressed with the sense of community among state workers. Programs like ITLA (the Information Technology Leadership Academy) and conferences like the California Public Sector CIO Academy* are great ways to learn and build your network.

IICA: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the gov tech/SLED sector?

Krause: Podcasts, audiobooks, some articles emailed to me from GovTech*, Gartner and others. I prefer audio these days, so I can learn about new tech or ideas while walking, driving, shopping, etc. LinkedIn is also a great way to stay in touch with former colleagues as we all take our different journeys. It’s gratifying to see a former colleague working on a similar initiative and instantly reach out to see how it’s going. Deep learning and thinking can materialize from ingesting great content, but I believe that discussion with colleagues can turn seeds into trees. Therefore, I encourage leaders within Covered California to bring ideas to our meetings for discussion.

IICA: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Krause: I like to cook, but I’m usually only as good as the recipes I follow. I also enjoy writing and designing fantasy org charts. I read voraciously and can usually be found with an earbud plugged in listening to a book. I just finished David Grann’s new book The Wager and Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic’s I, Human, and started Creativity Inc. by legendary Pixar co-founder and former President Ed Catmull. I will also probably read everything written by Adam Grant, David Sedaris and Stephen King.

*Government Technology magazine, which hosts the California Public Sector CIO Academy, is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Industry Insider — California.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.