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Senior Project Manager on Role, Network Modernization

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.

A career state technologist, Robert Schmidt has been in the public sector for about 22 years. He is senior project manager in the IT Project and Business Management Division at the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), a role he has had for two years. He was previously a senior consultant to state agencies from 2017-2020. From 2015-2017, Schmidt was chief, Office of Technology Services at the California Department of Technology — appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown and confirmed by the state Senate. From 2011-2015, Schmidt was agency chief information officer in the Office of Information Technology Services at the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

He has a Master of Business Administration from California State University, Sacramento, and is an avid outdoorsman.

Industry Insider — California: Take me through your time in the public sector. How long have you been at the state, how long have you been at the California Department of Transportation and how long have you been in your current role?

Schmidt: I’ve been in the public sector since 1990 as a student assistant. Currently, I am a senior project manager within the IT Project and Business Management Division of Caltrans for the past two years. Previously, I was a senior consultant from 2017 to 2020 working with California state agencies and the private sector. In 2015 to 2017, I was appointed by Gov. [Jerry] Brown and Senate-confirmed as chief of the Office of Technology Services at the California Department of Technology. I was appointed as agency chief information officer in the Office of Information Technology Services at the California Department of Food and Agriculture from 2011 to 2015. I was a project principal of statewide information technology consolidation at the California Department of Technology from 2009 to 2011; and a system software specialist at the California Franchise Tax Board from 1999 to 2009 and at the California Department of Technology from 1996 to 1999, where I was an associate system software specialist from 1995 to 1996. I was a programmer at the California Department of Health Care Services from 1994 to 1995. I earned a Master of Business Administration degree from California State University, Sacramento.

Industry Insider — California: How would you describe your current role, senior project manager at Caltrans/CalSTA, in terms of responsibilities and duties? How large is your current team?

Schmidt: At Caltrans I serve as a (project manager) PM and technologist supporting a large project portfolio and services. I presently manage implementation of the Transportation System Network Replacement Project protecting drivers’ safety in California. I also manage the upgrade of the PeopleSoft environment for Caltrans. Between these projects, I work with 260 team members across Caltrans as well as other agencies to accomplish our mission.

Industry Insider — California: What big IT initiatives or projects are you working on? What sorts of projects might be coming your way in 2023?

Schmidt: In the past six months, I have transitioned as PM to the Transportation System Network Replacement Project (TSNR), which is one our largest IT projects underway in the department. To support the Caltrans Safety First Goal “Toward Zero Deaths,” Caltrans is replacing the current Transportation System Network (TSN) database with a modern safety data system. The new TSN system will expand the existing State Highway System network to cover all public roads and incorporate geographic information systems (GIS) linear referencing systems (LRS) as the fundamental means to link state and local roadway inventory, volume and crash data for analysis. The new TSN will provide quality data to help make informed safety improvement decisions, meet the federal Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act requirements, and increase efficiency in program operations across Caltrans. The TSNR project completed the end of Stage 4 of the CDT Project Approval Lifecycle in April 2022. The project is targeted to be complete by end of 2024. The TSNR Project is a reportable project under the oversight of the California Department of Technology (CDT), approved for implementation on April 7, 2022, and was awarded to Rizing Geospatial.

Industry Insider — California: You accepted a “Best of California” award for Excellence in Project Management at September’s California Digital Government Summit* for, as I understand it, coordinating the installation of a new Oracle platform, working with vendors and subject matter experts. Can you explain a bit about that project, the needs it resolved, its goals and your role in it?

Schmidt: In 2019, Caltrans determined the need to update its obsolete version of PeopleSoft, which it uses for Staff Central, that has reached its end of life and fully realized the capabilities of its on-premise investment. Staff Central supports the human resources functions and timekeeping of 22,000 department employees. The upgrade of Staff Central’s functionality, efficiency and supportability going forward. As the project’s PM, I worked across our human resources organization, our IT organization, and with many district employees throughout the state. In total, the project team included more than 140 subject matter experts across Caltrans. This project consisted of both a hardware and software refresh including migration to an existing Oracle Exadata environment with disaster recovery capabilities.

Industry Insider — California: What were the biggest challenges to the project and how were those resolved? When did it go live?

Schmidt: With an obsolete version of PeopleSoft, understanding the interconnectivity to internal and external systems was our biggest challenge. Focusing on understanding our current environment, our future environment and gap analysis were the key to ensuring our success in 2022.

Industry Insider — California: What best practices might you offer as a result of having worked on this project?

Schmidt: Communications is key to the success of any project. A significant amount of time needs to be spent to understand and document the needs of a commercial off-the-shelf or modified off-the-shelf solution. By spending that time, the project was able to save a significant amount of time in the later stages as the scope was well defined and communicated to the project team.

Industry Insider — California: In your time at Caltrans — or at another state entity — what IT project or achievement are you most proud of?

Schmidt: During the COVID-19 lockdown, I was invited to participate with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and a number of leading university instructors on transitioning teachers from in the classroom to online teaching. In total, more than 10,000 teachers participated in the program over the summer of 2020. I was recognized as an AWS Faculty Ambassador, one of a few hundred in the world.

Industry Insider — California: What has surprised you most this year in government technology?

Schmidt: As I look over the past year, resiliency of our workforce and how they leverage technology has surprised me the most. As we continue to recover, our workforce has adapted to the situation and continues to deliver on our projects and initiatives through these technologies.

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

Schmidt: I read a broad range of information to stay up to date including Industry Insider and GovTech* articles. I also teach graduate-level computer science topics and learn from my students’ research and publications.

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

Schmidt: I hike, backpack and camp in Northern California. Given my teaching interests, I read and research about educational technology and applications of machine learning.

*The California Digital Government Summit is hosted by Government Technology magazine, a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Industry Insider — California.

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