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Ideas for IT: A Look at Statewide Vision 2023 Strategic Plan

Strategic plans can offer a clear perspective on how a state or local government wields IT and innovation. This recurring series examines the strategic plans of state entities as well as counties and municipalities.

Not every state or local government in California has a strategic plan and of those that do, not all are relevant to IT and innovation. The state of California, on the other hand, not only has a statewide strategic plan, published in January 2021, but much of that plan offers considerable food for thought for vendors.

California’s statewide strategic plan is Vision 2023, created by the California Department of Technology, then under the leadership of Director Amy Tong, the former state chief information officer, who is now secretary of the California Government Operations Agency. Their vision of government, officials write, is one that “operates without surprises or hidden traps,” is convenient, accessible and reliable; and “hears its people’s voices and reacts to their needs and desires.” To this end, the plan sets five goals: deliver easy-to-use, fast, dependable and secure public services; ensure public services are equitable and inclusive; make common technology easy to access, use and reuse across government; build digital government more quickly and more effectively; and build confident, empowered multidisciplinary teams. Much more detail on where and how these intersect with potential opportunities, however, may be found in Vision 2023’s five challenge areas. These highlight potential future needs:

  • On providing fast, secure, dependable, easy service: The state’s online landscape at the time of the report’s release spanned more than 300 websites managed by more than 150 departments, and users faced “inconsistent and disconnected experiences” with many sites “written to postgraduate English reading levels, making them hard to understand.” The COVID-19 pandemic and consistent spikes in demand at entities like the California Department of Motor Vehicles have demonstrated the need to handle demand surges, while service failures have sparked emergency incidents and strike teams to keep services stable. The pandemic also pointed out services that relied on paper and paper processes; and those that may lack the operational insights, dashboards or metrics to facilitate positive change.
  • On making sure those services are inclusive and equitable: Digital is “increasingly the primary and expected channel” for government services; 2017’s state Assembly Bill 434 required websites and online documents be accessible to people with disabilities. Yet while the state wants to increase digital service delivery, 23 percent of housing units that are home to 8.4 million residents lack broadband. Delivering broadband to every Californian, per the plan, will cost “at least $6.8 billion in private, federal and state investments as bandwidth demand continues to grow,” which is more than the state expects to receive from the Federal Communications Commission’s Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and from state programs. Additionally, the state’s tech policy and procurement environment “incentivizes large technology procurements” of tens or hundreds of millions of dollars instead of “smaller,” sub-million dollar teams, leading to a smaller vendor pool. Procurements centered on “approaches or solutions that have already been decided” inhibit the quality and speed of how problems are solved and may also bar smaller, newer vendors.
  • On making common tech easy to access, use and share: Staffers are “frustrated” by the inability to search each other’s contact information and availability, work on documents in real time across departments and access a “common baseline of modern tools.” The inconsistent availability of software and IT infrastructure inhibits productivity and collaboration and maintains siloing. Remote work brings issues with respect to connectivity and access to devices that can run video meeting tools. Programs aren’t always able to “quickly and securely prototype and experiment with data” without operations being affected. Unconnected authentication systems mean users have to prove their identities repeatedly. Identity verification and authentication are a common need – and “programs and departments bear the burden of implementing, maintaining, supporting and securing multiple identity verification and authentication systems.” A common approach to identity verification and authentication is in “early stages” and needs more work to understand residents’ needs on privacy and security.
  • On doing a better job of building digital government: The state Legislature and the Department of Finance need greater transparency to build confidence they’re “appropriately investing and building useful technology” at service and statewide enterprise levels. Much of the state’s “critical IT infrastructure and tools” are years or decades old and, while they’re stable, newer technology that’s been added can be “complex to manage, difficult to change” and fails to scale. Few successful models for replacing legacy exist for the state – but it’s clear that a “wholesale (a ‘big bang’) doesn’t work either.” Delivering on the state’s vision will require programs and data are interoperable, but also will require “understanding trade-offs and long-term planning.”
  • On building multidisciplinary teams: Using technology successfully requires collaboration and cross-disciplinary integration. Yet much of tech’s existing capability is organized “largely based on a historical IT structure focused on operations ... and supporting commodity technology,” although roles have intermingled increasingly with core programs. Current tech leadership programs leave skill and training gaps, surveys have shown, including in on-the-job learning. Onboarding, support structures and integration must be enhanced in order to improve recruitment for critically needed roles like user researchers, designers, technical writers and data engineers.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.