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State CIO, CTO Discuss Enterprise-Level Initiatives

State Chief Information Officer Amy Tong and Chief Technology Officer Liana Bailey-Crimmins updated attendees Friday on several far-reaching IT projects and initiatives now underway. They spoke at the Techwire State of Technology California Industry Forum.

Lines of code overlayed over a data center.
As state Chief Information Officer Amy Tong prepares to head the Office of Digital Innovation in January, she leaves in the works a wide array of enterprise-level initiatives to aid the state’s roughly 150 entities.

Tong, who is also the director of the California Department of Technology, and Liana Bailey-Crimmins, state chief technology officer, updated roughly 200 attendees Friday on state IT projects during the Techwire State of Technology California Industry Forum, in conversation with e.Republic Executive Vice President and Techwire Publisher Alan Cox.* Among the takeaways:

  • CDT’s Technology Modernization Fund, established based on successes stabilizing key IT programs and standing up new ones during the pandemic, is poised to select its first group of awards this week to state entities facing IT business challenges. The fund, Bailey-Crimmins said, enables applicants selected to “do proofs of concept, do the small investments of big value, short sprints that allow us to really take advantage of the industry and the technology out there. And be able to deliver something fairly quick, versus waiting four to five years.” Selection is a multi-stage process including a readiness assessment and a proposal presentation. Work is already underway on the first round of projects, Tong said, indicating each is under $5 million in estimated cost, but is “one of those quick-win things that are completed in a shorter time frame but are high value, that are impactful ... .” It’s not certain how many proposals will be selected, Tong said. The second round of proposals will begin in February.
    “This is the rapid pace as well as the energy that we want it to also have,” the CIO said. “We’re also going to help them expedite the procurement so that they can have a team that’s in place and fully utilize the funds as fast as possible, to develop the product that they are set up to do.” The TMF is capitalized with $25 million.
  • There’s also a new, related state fund that’s centered on stabilizing critical services. It’s capitalized with a Budget Change Proposal that sought $11.4 million in fiscal year 2021-2022, $9.4 million in FY 2022-23, and $6.4 million ongoing “to invest in proactive measures to stabilize critical services and enhance performance statewide,” and to augment resources for the Broadband for All initiative. The fund is, Tong said, “in many cases, I could say more important because it deals with existing systems that are mission critical.” Its origins, too, lie in the pandemic, Bailey-Crimmins said, when officials realized public health systems “were not architected in a way to handle the level of demand on those systems and they started having issues under the hood.”
    “We talk about modernization, but you need to make sure that your system is stable and that it’s running as it’s needed, and as it’s stable, then you can modernize,” said Bailey-Crimmins, who is also chief of the Office of Technology Services within CDT. She compared it to triage in the health industry and called it “an opportunity where we have resources and some money to go in and assess at an application layer, a network layer, actually look at the risk.” This initiative has essentially two aspects: staff and experts to examine a critical application and its infrastructure; or, if that expertise is for some reason unavailable, the potential of “a little bit of consulting dollars.” But, Tong said, potential candidates here could also be eligible for the TMF. Unlike the TMF, which recently closed its first round of applications, projects here are being selected through more of a consensus model, though a later round may involve self-nominations.
  • Tong cited the Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL) as one of the highlights of her time as state CIO and CDT director. But, she pointed out, work is now underway to further modernize it beyond the existing “PAL 2.0.” Under the leadership of Chinyere “Chi” Emodi, whom Gov. Newsom appointed last month as state chief project officer and deputy director for CDT’s Office of Statewide Project Delivery, staff and officials are well along on “PAL 2022.” “Which means, in the spring time frame, you’re going to have a new, unveiled, newly improved PAL process,” Tong said. She cautioned attendees to keep in mind that PAL — initiated in July 2015 and rolled out during the next year — isn’t a “set time frame,” but indicated a majority of requests got approval in less than six months.
  • Ongoing large-scale public-sector retirements leave the state facing several challenges, Bailey-Crimmins said. One is ensuring that service delivery doesn’t flag as institutional knowledge departs. Another is changing the way people — including technical experts and college students who may be future technology workers — think about mainframe. In actuality, CDT offers modern, reliable and agile varieties of platform hosting, and mainframe is typically as resilient as it is foundational, the CTO said.
    “When you look at an application, that is something that’s going to be around for a while, both new or old, it is definitely a viable solution for old talent and new talent,” Bailey-Crimmins said.

Editor’s note: A video recording of this briefing is available online.

*Cox is also publisher of Government Technology magazine, which, like Techwire, is a publication of e.Republic.
Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.