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Food and Ag Seeks AIO to Succeed IT Veteran Peterson

The California Department of Food and Agriculture’s retiring agency information officer, Rob Peterson, says the position is a complex one that requires a blend of skills.

The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) has opened recruitment for an agency information officer, the top role in IT governance.

“The AIO manages a large, complex IT operation including automated systems and applications,” the job posting says. At the highest level, the AIO is responsible for developing a vision and leading the creation of “enterprise policies and administrative guidelines, practices, and standards for IT policies and project activities, ensuring proper analysis, business integration planning, information security, and application development and support.” That vision is to include developing IT strategic plans and policy direction.

The AIO role (Career Executive Assignment) has a monthly salary range of $9,755 to $20,144, and the application deadline is Feb. 7. More information about the AIO recruitment can be found in the duty statement.

Rob Peterson.
Rob Peterson
The recruitment is a result of the impending retirement of Rob Peterson, who took that role in March 2021 after having served as chief information officer for more than four years. Peterson has been a state employee since joining the California Department of Technology (CDT) in March 2014 as a consultant targeting the “state’s ‘Dirty Dozen’ causes of project failures,” according to his LinkedIn profile. A retired federal Department of Defense staffer, he spent well over a decade in the private sector, most recently as the owner of R.A. Peterson and Associates, before joining CDT.

The longtime tech executive was featured in an Industry Insider — California One-on-One interview in August 2021. This week, he responded to three questions from Industry Insider:

Industry Insider — California: What attributes would you say an AIO should possess in order to succeed at CDFA?

Peterson: CDFA is a very unique agency. I know all agencies say that, but having worked in the past for all state agencies, I can say this by comparison. CDFA’s statutes place significant challenges on IT to operate and maintain existing systems and applications, let alone modernize. IT is funded by hundreds of individual small business programs, many only 10-20 people or less; there are a few larger ones, but these are funded via federal hourly reimbursement, and not at a department level.

The attributes of the next AIO, for them to succeed, is first understanding the businesses and their constraints, as it directly impacts what can be done within IT and when. Be innovative, in that common solutions that can reduce overall costs to each individual business program will be essential to modernize; as stated previously, IT funding comes from the individual programs, not the department. (Be a) relationship builder, in that almost “brutally honest” relationships with external entities, such as the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the Department of Finance, CDT and others, will be critical to get them to understand CDFA’s statutory constraints; in past discussions I’ve had with them, they’ve never heard of such constraints.

And my biggest thing is to be a people person to the IT staff, as they work under significant constraints and could easily leave to join another department with significantly greater promotional opportunities and necessary IT funding.

IICA: What’s been your high point, your biggest success or your most memorable project, during your time with state government?

Peterson: A very recent project that was funded by the CDT Technology Modernization Fund was the biggest success in all areas of cost, schedule, and quality, which was called the Registered Service Agents (RSA) Project. While the CDFA business program is minimally staffed — two or three positions — much of the work is contracted under agreements with the counties. The RSA Program controls the validity and accuracy of all weights and measures in California, from gas station pumps to grocery scales, 1.8 million devices. The TMF funded project was only about $1.3 million but we were under budget by $3,000, hit the MVP (minimum viable product) target date exactly, and completed the entire effort with all originally planned functionality on schedule. We planned the cost, schedule, and functionality out eight months prior to the effort getting started and presented it to the TMF Selection Committee, which they funded and all CDFA commitments to TMF were met. This was a great project.

IICA: Do you have any plans to move into the private sector, or are you focusing on retirement, health, family, etc.?

Peterson: I may go back to private-sector consulting work, which I did for 17 years after retiring from the DoD and prior to joining the state. In my past private-sector work, I did project management (DoD-certified PM and 20-plus years PMP-certified), project oversight (work to help write the CDT standards), and IV&V (independent verification and validation); for the latter, I was a co-author of the IEEE 1012 standard. However, I won’t be looking for full-time work. Health is more important now that I just defeated one cancer, and it woke me up a bit to take more time for myself and family. When I retire, I will have worked non-stop for exactly 50 years, so it’s time.
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.