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How Ron Robinette Got the Nod as GovOps AIO: ‘I Keep Raising My Hand’

“Part of the AIO role is to support and partner with the other departments within the agency,” Robinette told Industry Insider — California. “I want to focus on the innovation part of it. There’s some super-capable CIOs within the agency.”

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This week, the California Government Operations Agency (GovOps) got a new deputy secretary and agency chief information officer (AIO): Ron Robinette, who has more than 20 years as a technologist and executive in state government.

Robinette, familiar to those who attend industry and government technology conferences and forums, started his new role this week. Before his appointment, he spent more than seven years with the California Department of Technology (CDT), first as project approval and oversight branch chief and then as CDT’s chief service assessment officer. Before that, he was the chief information officer for the California Department of Community Services and Development. Prior to that role, he held leadership positions in the California Department of Public Health and the State Water Resources Control Board.

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Ron Robinette
Robinette has numerous professional credentials and is an alumnus of CDT’s Information Technology Leadership Academy. He’s a lecturer at California State University at Sacramento, an endeavor that began in January. He’s a Sac State graduate, having received his bachelor’s degree in business and management information systems, and he received his master’s degree in management from the University of Illinois.

Industry Insider — California spoke this week with Robinette, and this interview has been edited lightly for style and clarity.

Industry Insider — California: What prompted you to seek this position with GovOps?

Robinette: I started as a student assistant in ’98, and one of my first tasks was Y2K analysis. And GenAI [generative artificial intelligence] kind of hit me as analogous to that. Like, this is a critical point in technology and innovation, and I wanted to be a part of it.

IICA: What was your reaction when you won the appointment?

Robinette: Here we go! Let’s go!

IICA: What do you think distinguished you?

Robinette: Obviously, initiating the Technology Modernization Fund and the Technology Stabilization Service was really important. And you know, with Liana [state CIO Liana Bailey-Crimmins] and Jonathan [state Chief Technology Officer Jonathan Porat] and Jared’s [state Deputy CIO Jared Johnson] help over there, it felt like we’ve made those really good programs, and I was satisfied with where I took it. We have a great team over there, ready to take it to the next level.

IICA: Do you have one or two top goals or priorities as you come into the role?

Robinette: To learn as much as I can about GenAI and the workstreams involved in getting that going in the state to meet the executive order. … Part of the AIO role is to support and partner with the other departments within the agency. I want to focus on the innovation part of it. There’s some super-capable CIOs within the agency. I’ll meet with them on Thursday. I don’t have a huge amount of intel on exactly what their priorities are yet, but I’m here to help.

IICA: Will you be dealing with vendors directly?

Robinette: We have the POCs [proofs of concept] for Gen AI that should be landing soon, and I hope to get involved in that part of the process — doing the award and working with the vendors to deliver that innovation. I had an MS Bookings page, and I used that to meet with the vendors on occasion. It’s also a learning experience for me. I see it as a two-way street. I want to see what’s out there. Obviously, I signed up for the job because I like technology and innovation. So meeting with the vendors is part of my education process.

IICA: What would specify as a 30-day or a 60-day goal?

Robinette: The challenge is built into the name of the organization that I signed up for: Government Operations. So I see that as not only the AIO role here — that yes, we're trying to uplift and support the departments within our agency — but because it’s in the name, we’re trying to help all of government operate more efficiently. I think the challenge is to balance the time between being present, accountable and responsible for helping with the administration’s initiatives, specifically in GenAI, obviously, but also having the classic AIO role of supporting the departments within my agency. Also, looking to innovate so that the wins that we have within GovOps can be shared broadly across government.

IICA: You have a resume that includes having been an award-winning technologist, a CIO and other leadership roles. To what do you attribute your success?

Robinette: I keep raising my hand. I was lucky to be at the organizations that I was previously. When you get into a role at the Department of Technology, for example, you’re looking more broadly at helping across government. My portfolio at CDT at one time was 180-plus departments. Once you have the perspective — that the work you do and the actions you take and the decisions you make are going to be impacting that scale of work — that’s what I think has helped me most in getting into that mindset. The work that we’re doing is super important and impacts 39-plus million people. The services that people get from government are needed, and there’s ways to make them even better.

I think that perspective I got from CDT was important — and me raising my hand for this role. This is obviously a deeper role with sort of the same scale. Without that experience, I don’t know if I would be confident enough to come over here.

As somebody who has been in technology my whole life, it [being at CDT] was awesome. Those are great A-plus-plus technologists. And it’s humbling to be in an environment like that, when everybody’s knowledge and skills are so deep. I’ve heard the saying iron sharpens iron. That’s kind of how I felt at CDT. There's an awesome group of people over there, some really great leaders.

IICA: In addition to the new job, you've taken on a recent role doing more lecturing at Sac State.

Robinette: That’s my passion project. I am a member of PMI, the Project Management Institute. One of the emails came out a few years ago, I think during the onset of COVID, and it was, ‘Does anybody want to be a guest lecturer at the project management class?’ That's when I met Professor Deanna Daly and I started lecturing in her class. I have continued to be a part of the IT Leadership Academy program since I went through the program, and I kept teaching within the program. So I just kind of caught this teaching bug.

One of the professors at Sac State, Spiros Velianitis, came into one of my classes — I think I was probably teaching something about the project planning and Project Approval Lifecycle at the [CDT] training center — and he’s like, ‘Oh, you should do this at Sac State.’ And I was like, ‘Oh, that’d be great.’ You know, that’s where I’m from — Stingers Up! And he’s like, ‘You have your master’s, right?’ And I was like, ‘You know, I started; I never finished it.’ And he goes, ‘OK, well, you’ve got to get your master’s and then call me.’ So that was my COVID project: finishing my master’s. I've just been teaching the one class on business intelligence, and it’s with honors kids. They do an honors cohort now at Sac State, and they definitely keep me on my toes.

IICA: In terms of your personal life, do you have any hobbies, family, passion projects?

Robinette: I have awesome support from my wife, my partner. Personal hobbies: I’ve placed in a couple of bowling tournaments recently, so I’m pretty proud of that. Teaching the class, as I said, is my sort of my way to give back to everybody who’s invested in me over the years. It’s definitely not just the two-and-a-half hours I spend with the kids every week; it’s trying to give them something beneficial that they’ll take with them their whole careers, in the current class, Turn Data into Insights. So that ends up being my nights and weekends — unless it’s bowling night.

IICA: How should vendors approach you?

Robinette: Email’s great.

IICA: Do you have a takeaway message?

Robinette: Thanks to the secretary and undersecretary [Amy Tong and Miriam Barcellona Ingenito, respectively] for this opportunity.
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.