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Senior Product Manager: Digital Services Solicitations Likely in Next Year

A photo of Christian Crumlish, senior product manager for the California Office of Data and Innovation, next to a quote that reads: “My role is to deliver value to Californians through our service-innovation engagements with partner programs. This means ensuring the work we do meets clearly articulated goals in terms of actual outcomes and not just one-time delivery of code to spec.”
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.

Christian Crumlish is senior product manager at the California Office of Data & Innovation (ODI), a role he has had since being appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on July 29. ODI is an office within the California Government Operations Agency (GovOps), the creation of which the agency sought via budget change proposal in early 2022; it was approved as part of the 2022-2023 Fiscal Year state budget. In the BCP, GovOps requested merging the state Office of Digital Innovation, the Government Excellence and Transformation Center (GET Center) and the CalData Program into one entity. Among his private-sector experiences, Crumlish has been principal consultant and founder of Design in Product since March 2019, per LinkedIn and the Governor’s Office; and was vice president of products at 7 Cups from June 2015 to September 2019. At the state, he served as product lead for, the state’s COVID-19 website, from January 2021-June 2022.

He has a Bachelor of Arts degree in philosophy from Princeton University and is one of seven listed inventors of Systems and Methods for Object-based Interaction with Cloud-based Applications, for which a patent was issued Feb. 8, 2018.

Industry Insider — California: As governor-appointed product lead at your organization, how do you describe your role?

Crumlish: My role is to deliver value to Californians through our service-innovation engagements with partner programs. This means ensuring the work we do meets clearly articulated goals in terms of actual outcomes and not just on-time delivery of code to spec. We (the entire service innovation group) also support ODI’s strategy team by providing case studies, playbooks, and subject-matter expertise for training efforts so that we can help state government programs level up more rapidly. Strategically, we’d love more of government to adopt a product mindset, which we might describe as a shorthand for being:

  • Outcome-focused — achieving substantive goals beyond executing a Gantt chart.
  • Human-centered — clarifying problems and opportunities through research and design.
  • Data-informed — using empirical evidence to check, validate, steer, and refine work to ensure it tracks toward desired outcomes.
  • Agile, lean and iterative — experimental, adaptive to new information, and able to pivot effectively.
I am also charged with advising ODI’s directorate on product vision, strategy and operations.

II-CA: Does the Office of Data & Innovation have a strategic plan, and may we hyperlink to it? Are you involved in writing that strategic plan?

Crumlish: ODI’s website outlines our strategic goals and objectives, in line with the California Department of Technology’s Vision 2023. Our entire team collaborated in writing our vision, mission and objectives.

II-CA: What big IT initiatives or projects are coming up at ODI? What sorts of developing opportunities and RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Crumlish: Many of our upcoming projects will be selected via the Data & Innovation Fund (DIF). The fund was established to accelerate data best practices and to introduce new tools and methods in human-centered design with a goal of delivering significant business process improvements within state departments. Some DIF projects include vendors. The program is growing rapidly (we are evaluating the second and third cohort of DIF projects now) and there will undoubtedly be solicitations for digital services once the next round of projects are approved.

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

Crumlish: I haven’t worked in local government directly myself, but one thing I did learn from working on the COVID response was that a state with 40 million residents and 58 counties requires an incredible amount of coordination, information sharing, and joint decision-making across all levels of government. This in turn has made government technologists at the state, county and local levels acutely aware of the need for up-to-date digital solutions, data sharing agreements, and cross-organization collaboration.

II-CA: How do you define “digital transformation?” How far along is your organization in that process, and how will you know when it’s finished?

Crumlish: I define digital transformation as the result of re-evaluating legacy processes, approaches and workflows. This means identifying elements in the service journey that could be eased, improved, expedited, or even reinvented to improve the quality of the experience. This also includes streamlining and speeding up the execution of necessary statutory and regulatory requirements. ODI is part of a multipronged effort led by the governor, addressing the need for innovation and improved service delivery at the level of every agency, department and program. We don’t fool ourselves that this is an easy lift. The challenge is naturally large due to the inevitable technical debt, momentum, and the sort of inertia from past digital programs that any large successful organization experiences over time. Our job fundamentally is to empower people to make constant improvements to the work of the state government. I’d reckon we are still in the early stages of this process, but we are constantly encouraged by the leadership of our agency secretary, Amy Tong, and we are overjoyed by the recent appointment of our awesome new director, Nolwenn Godard.

Editor’s note: find II-CA coverage of Godard’s appointment here and of Tong’s swearing-in here.

II-CA: What is ODI’s estimated IT budget and how many employees are in its IT unit?

Crumlish: The Data & Innovation Fund (DIF) ODI administers has a $30 million budget, with most of that still unencumbered. The ODI team is small but has nearly doubled in size in the past year. We are now around 35-plus, many of whom are engineers, designers and data experts.

II-CA: Do you work with vendors and if so, how do you prefer to be contacted by them, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How should vendors best educate themselves before approaching ODI?

Crumlish: I lead product vision for ODI, and hiring vendors isn’t part of my role (so don’t call me personally, please!). The best way to reach out to ODI is by sending an email to We highly recommend vendors familiarize themselves with our office and its mission before contacting us and appreciate anyone taking the time to educate themselves first. There’s a ton of great information about ODI on our website.

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

Crumlish: For some context, I worked at Yahoo in the era when we had millions of visitors to the company’s homepage per day. Having said that, was by far the most consequential website I have ever had the privilege to work on in my career. I wasn’t there when it launched and so I really can’t take credit for the herculean effort of staff from ODI, the California Department of Public Health, the Department of Technology, and so many other stakeholders to stand up the site just as the pandemic began to rage. But I will always be proud of what we accomplished to support the public health response and to provide Californians (and, really, the world) with timely, accurate, informative data and reliable information communicated in plain language.

II-CA: What has surprised you most in government technology during the past 12 months?

Crumlish: This may be obvious to folks who have been around gov tech longer than I have, but I consistently find the key to innovative, successful outcomes depends on well-directed communication among the people involved in the project. This is every bit as important as the technology stack of the digital solution.

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

Crumlish: I tend to follow people who are already curating such information online such as Cyd Harrell, Dan Hon, Angie Quirarte, and Dana Chisnell, among many others. As I find myself less engaged with Twitter, discovering the Mastodon accounts listed on has provided me with access to the thoughts of some of the most plugged-in and independent-minded people working in this sector.

II-CA: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Crumlish: My main hobby these days is writing, playing and singing songs on my various ukuleles, ideally together with friends. I have always loved reading novels and I devoured science fiction stories growing up (and to this day, if the writing is good enough), and on top of that I really enjoy doing a deep dive into some place and time in history that I never learned much about in school. For the last few years, I’ve read a lot about late antiquity, the Middle Ages, and also early civilizations. It’s surprising how often these far-distant time periods shed valuable light on the world we live in today.

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