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Industry Insider One-on-One: Toxic Substances CIO on Data, Collaboration

Image of Don Foley next to a quote: “We are digitally transforming and modernizing solutions to support our programs in today’s hybrid work environment.”
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.

Don Foley is the chief information officer and deputy director at the California Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), roles he has had since June 2021. He was previously branch manager of the Innovative Technology Solutions Branch at the California Department of Social Services (DSS) from October 2019-June 2021. Foley’s state career dates to May 2008, when he joined the California Department of Water Resources as a network engineer. Before joining DSS, he served as enterprise IT project manager at DWR from April 2017-September 2019.

Foley’s education includes the CIO Institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas School of Business; being part of the Leadership for Government Executive, Cohort 28 at California State University, Sacramento; and graduating as part of Cohort 26 from the California Department of Technology’s Information Technology Leadership Academy (ITLA).

Industry Insider — California: As CIO of your organization, how do you describe your role? How have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?

Foley: My role is to be an IT strategic business partner and service provider who is an extension of our programs — to provide information technology vision and strategies that enable the programs’ success. Specifically, my focus is to understand their lines of business, daily operations, drivers, and the key stakeholders they must serve to achieve business outcomes that advance our overall mission. I believe it is our job to maintain lines of communication and build trusted partnerships with our executive team members and their staff to assure them we are invested in their success. By doing so, we can inspire their support for enterprise strategies and solutions that serve multiple program needs. No longer can CIOs and their teams wait for their organization’s programs to come to them for technology strategies and solutions. We must be viewed as part of their programs, and merged with them from concept to completion, while also considering what is best holistically for the entire organization. As we know, business drives technology. We must be at the table to be able to serve our program partners, building effective and productive working relationships. Our IT team takes a proactive stance in serving our programs’ demands; we have established recurring meetings with the programs to discuss their IT needs. In addition, our team visits field sites and remote office locations, collaborating with program staff to understand their job functions and discuss solutions. We rely on their feedback to help us improve strategies and implement solutions serving the individual program and DTSC overall. We are digitally transforming and modernizing solutions to support our programs in today’s hybrid work environment. Our team has developed a technology road map based on business objectives that we are executing over the next few years. Our vendor community and partners help us stay current on products and services that pair nicely with our needs.

Industry Insider — California: 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?

Foley: Our organization-wide DTSC Strategic Plan spans the years 2020-2024. As a member of the executive team, I am deeply involved and connected to our Strategic Plan. We are in the process of updating our key performance indicators to enhance alignment with our strategic goals and communicate our progress to external stakeholders. My program is in the process of updating our IT Strategic Plan to align with DTSC’s Strategic Plan. It will be a three-year plan that will support business initiatives and objectives. The primary outcome will be to provide the IT vision and strategy that achieves real business value and advances our mission. The plan will have metrics for success that are aligned to department goals and objectives. Business demands, social conditions, technology innovations and other factors require plans that are agile and adaptable, or else they become purposeless.

Industry Insider — California: How often do you update your organization’s enterprise catalog?

Foley: Our team is currently engaged in an Information Technology Service Management project — a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product — and over the past several months we have fully documented our technology solutions and services, which will be published in our IT service catalog. We plan to maintain the catalog regularly throughout the year. To add, we have made great strides in building our enterprise architecture team, which is helping to lead our technology vision and strategy for the department. We have begun strategy conversations around solutions, standards, and investments to support our organization.

Industry Insider — California: 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?

Foley: We’re eagerly supporting the implementation of Senate Bill 158, the governor’s governance and fee initiative for DTSC, and there are many efforts taking place across our department. One is a multi-phased effort called the DTSC Data Empowerment Project, enabling our department to become more data-driven and increasing business intelligence. Phase 1 is expected to go through August 2023, Phase 2 for approximately three to four years after that, and Phase 3 for around the same timeframe. Phase 1’s project scope includes data literacy, data management, and data governance. We have an obligation and responsibility to publish and illustrate the value we have added from the funding we received through SB 158. Data Empowerment will enable DTSC to communicate our progress on department outcomes through our key performance indicators. We will enhance our existing KPI dashboard reporting with interactive reports and drill-down features displaying additional information and measuring progress on each KPI. Internally, we will increase our knowledge, skills, and abilities around data management, analytics, and reporting. We are also active participants in CalEPA’s Data Empowerment efforts that span all the boards, departments, and offices within the entire agency, helping us all to collaborate on initiatives and technology, and to share data. We are investing in SaaS customer service and asset management products, and we have begun efforts around contract life cycle management and legal case management solutions.

Industry Insider — California: How do you define “digital transformation?” How far along is your organization in that process, and how will you know when it is finished?

Foley: I think digital transformation is based around human-centered design approaches that address people’s true needs. Some huge success factors are about changing the mindset, behavior, and culture of your organization as well. People can get stuck in their own ways and do what they have always done because it’s comfortable to them; they may view change as the enemy, when in fact doing what they’ve always done and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. Organizational change management is crucial to helping people understand the value of change, and that change is the only thing that’s constant. Organizational change management is about increasing efficiencies and analyzing business processes to identify gaps and needs, and then pairing those with digital solutions that automate manual processes, reduce reliance on hard-paper documents, facilitate electronic signatures, approvals and more — and as I was saying, you have to make your people comfortable with the changes. We have made some advancements, but we would like to utilize more SaaS products for the timely delivery of services to support our program stakeholders. I do not think we are ever going to be finished as information technology strategic partners and service providers. Technology continues to advance, and business demands continue to rise. People want to do more, and do it more quickly, and our programs are hiring technically savvy people who are ready to do that right out of the gate. I believe DTSC is well on our way in modernizing solutions and empowering our program partners.

Industry Insider — California: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Foley: My overall IT budget is over $24 million annually. DTSC’s department budget for (Fiscal Year) 2021-2022 was approximately $884 million, and in FY 2022-2023 it will be approximately $585 million. We have 88 IT staff and plan to grow to 106 in the 2022-2023 fiscal year. We offer a flexible work schedule and are not forcing people back into the office unless their duties require it. Most of our positions can work from home, and we view that as a major benefit to be considered an applicant’s employer of choice. If you are interested in joining a department that is fun, innovative, that emphasizes diversity, equity, and inclusion, and offers flexible work-from-home benefits and more, please check us out on CalCareers. We are growing and looking for great people who care about people, our environment, and the communities we protect and serve.

Industry Insider — California: 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?

Foley: The best way to get ahold of me is by LinkedIn or sending an email. Please know I am big on building authentic professional work relationships based on integrity, trust, respect and transparency, to name a few core values. Please familiarize yourself with DTSC’s website to learn more about our department, and read our Strategic Plan and SB 158.

Industry Insider — California: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Foley: I think I am most proud of the team we have, consisting of extremely high-quality human beings who are champions of servant leadership. In our organization, we have people from our executive team all the way to rank and file who want to make a real difference in the work they perform. My team embodies the core values in DTSC’s Strategic Plan: Respect, Leadership, Teamwork, Quality and Professionalism, DEI, and Integrity. We can do more with a smaller team because our culture consists of being your best self, open-minded, collaborative, and supportive of one another. Our culture is the oppositive of the traditional mindset and behavior that exists across many organizations: command-and-control driven, silo oriented, risk-adverse, and hierarchical. The secret is simple: Do the opposite of what is typically done, and your organization will transform and thrive. Change your normal, much like the pandemic changed us in welcoming hybrid work environments. People are ready for it — and our younger generations require it if you plan to recruit and retain them. Today is a new world, and it is time for change!

Industry Insider — California: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Foley: I think we need to update terms and conditions guidelines to attract more companies to do business with the state of California. We need to evaluate our current guidelines for purchasing software and hardware from new vendors to streamline them and make them more efficient. Guidelines are needed, but they need to be updated to match the current market and business demands of the state. For example, we need to update software licensing subscription vehicles to allow state agencies to purchase new software from small vendors that only sell directly from their website via a monthly and/or annual subscription model. We need to streamline the process for vendors to get certified with the state’s Department of General Services. I also think we need to keep IT procurements decentralized from non-IT procurements.

Industry Insider — California: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the gov tech/SLED sector?

Foley: I mostly go to Industry Insider — California and LinkedIn, and communicate with strategic partners, state colleagues, CIO feeds, local news, and social media.

Industry Insider — California: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Foley: I am a big “pay it forward” person and enjoy mentoring and coaching people to reach greater heights in their careers. I enjoy recruiting people to DTSC who care about people and making a real difference in California. When I am not doing those things, I enjoy fishing, working out, riding my bicycle, barbecuing with family and friends, and quiet time. I plan to take a trip back home to Guam soon! I love California and have lived here over 37 years, but Guam will always be home. I enjoy reading leadership books, Simon Sinek materials, and I have started reading No Ego by Cy Wakeman and The Inspirational Leader by Gifford Thomas.

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