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State Health Agency Deputy AIO: ‘We Need to Prioritize Innovative Strategies’

An image of Deanne Wertin, deputy agency information officer at the California Health and Human Services Agency and chief deputy director of the Office of Technology and Solutions Integration, next to a quote that reads: "We have restructured to function as a single organization with a shared vision and mission, which will be implemented agencywide later this summer."
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.

Deanne Wertin is deputy agency information officer at the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) and the chief deputy director of the Office of Technology and Solutions Integration (OTSI). She has been deputy AIO since April 2018 and has been chief deputy director at OTSI since December. Prior to joining CalHHS, Wertin was chief operating officer at Social Interest Solutions from October 2015-June 2017; and before that, she was COO at M Corp. from November 2013-June 2015. Both are in the Sacramento area.

She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from the University of Virginia and a Master of Business Administration in finance and health care from the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management.

Industry Insider — California: As deputy agency information officer at the California Health and Human Services Agency and chief deputy director of the Office of Technology and Solutions Integration, how do you describe your roles? How have your roles and responsibilities changed in recent years in terms of their intersection with IT and innovation?

Wertin: The Office of Technology and Solutions Integration (OTSI), formerly the Office of Systems Integration (OSI), has assumed a comprehensive leadership role for the California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) and its departments. By merging the expertise and solution leadership of OSI with the Office of the Agency Information Officer’s (OAIO) knowledge of best practices, state policies, and cross-agency perspective, OTSI now has enhanced capabilities and an expanded reach. We have restructured to function as a single organization with a shared vision and mission, which will be implemented agency-wide later this summer. This restructuring does not eliminate [the] agency information officer’s statutory oversight role. However, the OAIO had already adopted a more collaborative and incremental approach in supporting our departments during planning, development and implementation phases, rather than solely reviewing completed artifacts for compliance. This approach allows us to provide valuable knowledge, feedback and informed oversight throughout the entire process while also supporting alignment with longer-term solution CalHHS goals. As a chief deputy director for OTSI, I’m accountable for establishing and operating an internal consulting function for CalHHS and its departments while continuing in my deputy AIO role. This function will augment departments’ capacity and capability through project and product management and related services, a center of excellence with tools and templates, and best practices training. Despite having two titles, my role remains unified, and I’ll begin to work more closely with our departments to offer support in the context of CalHHS’ unique program functions. OTSI also has an exceptional administrative operations division that I’m grateful to lead.

IICA: Do your organizations have strategic plans, and may we hyperlink to them? How big a role do you personally play in writing strategic plans?

Wertin: We are in the process of updating our CalHHS IT and Data Strategic Plan, which should be available this fall. I’m spending a lot of my time working on that document and feel a lot of ownership and pressure to get it right. While OTSI will have its own set of strategic priorities and objectives, the agency strategy will directly inform our technology leadership work.

IICA: 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?

Wertin: Right now, we are focused on integrating our team, and communicating and executing on our new mission. The IT and Data Strategic Plan is a high priority, as is increasing our agency’s enterprise architecture capabilities, understanding its strategic solutions and their needs, and promoting enterprise solutions, interoperability, and secure, appropriate data sharing across the agency. OTSI procurements are generally related to the IT projects that we deliver for our CalHHS organizations from start to finish, which are funded through our sponsoring departments and run on their behalf. Outside of these projects, OTSI is not a big buyer of technology or services, though we are in the middle of a Workday implementation. That may change over time if we identify appropriate shared services opportunities that could best be managed through our organization.

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

Wertin: Our local government partners are incredibly important to us in many ways, and I hope that the IT and data vision and related services that we provide will support them in their critical service delivery and other operations.

IICA: How do you define “digital transformation?” How far along are your organizations in that process, and how will you know when it’s finished?

Wertin: It’s interesting that we keep using that phrase — it’s not that it isn’t relevant, it’s just that we’ve all been transforming digitally for many years! And it will never be finished because there will always be new ways of doing the same things better. We need to prioritize innovative strategies that enable secure data sharing, linking, synthesis and related insight generation because these insights are essential for effective policy, program and solution innovations that are user-centered. Let’s start calling it “data and digital transformation,” as data deserves equal if not greater emphasis.

IICA: What is the estimated IT budget at both organizations and how many employees are in IT at both organizations?

Wertin: OTSI’s “program” is IT, and our overall budget largely reflects that of the projects we support. Our budget for FY 2023-24 is $626.8 million. We have just over 420 authorized positions, which includes temporary help positions as well.

IICA: 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?

Wertin: I’m generally not the buyer of IT products and services, but I see value in sharing my thoughts on our agency IT vision, challenges and needs with vendor partners to better prepare them for meeting with CalHHS organizations. While I may not be able to respond to every email promptly, it’s the best way to reach me. I’ll let folks know if I believe I can contribute value through a meeting. I recommend that vendors familiarize themselves with our agency’s mission, strategic priorities and guiding principles and my specific role. Once the IT and Data Strategic Plan is published, that will be essential reading. If this all feels like a match to your value proposition, I’m happy to talk more.

IICA: In your tenure in these roles, is there a particular project or achievement you are most proud of?

Wertin: I’m proud of my teams’ shift in how they support departments, how we are leading with collaboration and shared goals, and prioritizing departments’ needs. Equally, I am delighted with the trust-based relationships we’ve developed with our partners at the California Department of Technology and the Department of Finance; I believe that this is a win for all. OTSI is committed to becoming the preferred IT planning and delivery support partner for our CalHHS departments. Achieving that will signal that my service makes a positive difference in supporting CalHHS’ mission.

IICA: What has surprised you most this year in government technology?

Wertin: The acceleration and adoption of artificial intelligence capabilities. It’s here to stay and it’s up to us to figure out how to safely use it.

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

Wertin: I get the most value from articles that tell a compelling story about health and human services delivery and outcomes, as it gets me thinking about how we can better use technology and data. There are a variety of sources for these, including online news articles that I come across or that friends and colleagues send my way. I also really enjoy attending health and human services program and policy conferences, for the same reason. Plus, they reignite my passion for the work we do and connect me to my purpose.

IICA: What are your hobbies and what do you enjoy reading?

Wertin: I would be outside all day long if it were practical, so my hobbies generally keep me there. I bike and hike a lot, but I also just love off-leash time with my dog. Yoga helps with my endless pursuit of flexibility, mental and physical. I like to cook and recently mastered homemade ramen noodles — which may be my dietary downfall because I also love to eat. I travel whenever I can. Pleasure reading is pure escapism for me. I recently finished The Puma Years, a fascinating memoir by Laura Coleman that I highly recommend.

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