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Data, Innovation CIO: Progress and Measured Risk Go Hand in Hand

Office of Data and Innovation CIO Chad Bratton is focused on enabling his team to push beyond the status quo in service of Californians.

An image of Chad Bratton, CIO of ODI, next to a quote that reads: "ODI's mission is to drive innovation across California state government, using data technology and human-centered design to achieve exceptional, equitable outcomes for all Californians."
As part of Industry Insider — California’s ongoing efforts to inform readers about state and local agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with IT leaders. Responses have been lightly edited.

Chad Bratton currently serves as the chief information officer for the Office of Data and Innovation (ODI). As CIO, he is responsible for IT and security operations for ODI’s office and cloud platforms. Bratton describes himself as passionate about improving service delivery within state IT operations, with over 10 years of IT experience in both the public and private sectors. He was the co-founder of Survival Servers LLC, where he worked full-time from 2012-2015 before joining the state.

Bratton previously served as head of Information Technology for ODI, where he procured and implemented ODI’s critical IT infrastructure and systems to support engineering and administrative operations for a brand-new department. He led the implementation of Google Workspace and MacOS for ODI, bringing in a new and innovative approach to state IT operations. In a prior role as a DevOps engineer and digital services consultant with the California Department of Technology (CDT), Bratton implemented improvements for critical services and was focused primarily on establishing continuous integration and deployment pipelines, and high availability architecture for state websites.

He has a Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems from California State University, Sacramento.

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

Bratton: My role at the Office of Data and Innovation is focused on setting up our internal teams, as well as our state partners, for success. ODI is a government-to-government (G2G) department that partners with state departments and agencies to improve services for all Californians. For IT, that means doing user research and analyzing the data to make informed technology decisions. My team is very focused on building and implementing modern platforms and tools that enable our teams to work efficiently and provide ODI clients with the best possible outcomes. ODI balances traditional IT and innovation by working with program staff to securely deploy new platforms and technologies, and our efforts can help influence technology decisions across departments statewide. As a CIO, I look to provide stability to our teams and ensure our platforms are compliant with state policy, but I am also willing to take measured risks and drive digital transformation. Implementing modern tools and technology is just one method for achieving that goal.

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?

Bratton: ODI has a new director. Jeffery Marino was appointed to the role in January 2024. As a result, ODI is in the process of developing our multiyear strategic plan. ODI’s mission is to drive innovation across California state government, using data, technology and human-centered design to achieve exceptional, equitable outcomes for all Californians. Our vision is a state government that is modern, effective and provides exceptional service to all Californians.

Our four goals are to:
  • Develop a statewide culture of innovation for an improved customer experience for all Californians.
  • Embed equity in service design and delivery.
  • Enable departments to adopt tools and practices that support continuous improvement and performance measurement.
  • Establish a culture of operational excellence within ODI and exemplify what it means to be a customer-centric state department.

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?

Bratton: While ODI doesn’t have RFPs at this time, we frequently serve as consultants and partner with other state CIOs and IT leaders on important initiatives. ODI IT is working to align with the Cal-Secure road map and promote best practices in IT security for both hardware and cloud services.

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

Bratton: Local governments should be doing everything they can to retain staff, improve employee morale and build services that are easier for Californians to use. It is possible for the state to manage secure access using tools such as Jamf Connect, which is an app that allows users to keep computer passwords in sync with cloud identity providers. Employees want a choice to use modern hardware and cloud services. The state has the ability to securely deploy these technologies and improve employee satisfaction. When you enable your staff to do their best work, they will build services that are better for California. CIOs across the state have an opportunity to network more closely and share experiences. ODI has established an Innovation Community of Practice that we welcome others to join, and we are active members of other communities statewide designed and empowered to share best practices. ODI is responsible for the state’s data strategy and is home to the statewide chief data officer. This positions us to drive the change from within using a secure and thoughtful approach and develop the road map for how data can better serve Californians.

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?

Bratton: Digital transformation is all about improving the customer experience, and is also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually improve, experiment, and become comfortable with measured piloting — and the possibility of occasional failure. If digital transformation does not improve customer experience, you should question what value the transformation may bring, and consider a new approach that brings real value to your customers and stakeholders. What this means for me as a CIO is this process will never be completely finished. ODI’s approach is to continuously seek feedback directly from our stakeholders, and encourage our stakeholders to speak and learn from their customers and, ultimately, California’s residents.

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

Bratton: For FY 23/24, ODI’s proposed budget is $17,284,000 with 65 positions. ODI has four IT staff that report to the CIO.

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

Bratton: I am most proud of our launch of Californians needed a trusted resource for information during the pandemic. We launched the first version of in five days to be a source of truth. It showed the state what a best-practice website could look like, even though we made it in the middle of a crisis. ODI was the glue that brought together all of the pieces and created a stable publishing pipeline to allow our partners at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), the California Department of Technology, Government Operations Agency (GovOps), and the Governor’s Office to focus on other important COVID-19 response efforts. Since then, our IT team has worked to stand up a brand-new department. With staff located across the state — from Sacramento to San Diego — we adopted non-standard platforms to improve collaboration across the state. These modern and innovative technologies improve employee satisfaction and efficiency. We also established ODI’s core services and configured permissions and security for email, document collaboration, cloud hosting, and other services to enable ODI to begin working on critical projects.

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

Bratton: The executive order on generative AI that came from the Governor’s Office. The administration is paying close attention to emerging technologies, and I am very excited to see what opportunities and improvements this may bring to the state.

Using emerging technologies is not just about mastering a new platform or tool; it’s about the state adopting new technologies to improve services for Californians and improve employee satisfaction and retention. The team at ODI plays a key role in meeting the deliverables from the executive order.

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

Bratton: I am frequently reading articles posted on LinkedIn by other professionals that I follow. I am also a frequent reader of GovTech, Industry Insider — California, The Verge and other online technology news sources.

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

Bratton: I have been woodworking since age 15, and have converted my garage into a full woodshop. I enjoy watching basketball and have been a Sacramento Kings fan for my entire life! I also enjoy spending time with family and friends.