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State Housing Technology Officer: ‘I Consider Our Digital Transformation a Journey’

Subrat Sharma, CTO of the California Department of Housing and Community Development, next to a quote that reads: "I consider digital transformation as the process of using technology to improve the way government delivers services to its citizens. This includes using technology to automate processes, improve communication, and make data more accessible."
As part of Industry Insider — California’s ongoing efforts to inform readers about state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Subrat Sharma is chief technology officer of the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD), a role he has had since September. He was previously HCD’s chief of enterprise applications and data from April 2021-September 2023. Before entering public service, he spent more than two decades in the private sector, including serving as technology account manager at Accenture from August 2015-September 2020 and as head of customer solutions and services at from September 2020-March 2021.

Sharma has a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering from Veer Surendra Sai University of Technology and a Master of Business Administration degree from Xavier Institute of Management, and he graduated from the California Department of Technology’s Information Technology Leadership Academy in 2023.

Industry Insider — California: As chief technology officer at your organization, how do you describe your role and how does your unit support the department’s IT organization? How long have you been in your role?

Sharma: As the chief technology officer at the California Department of Housing and Community Development, I oversee the infrastructure and platform services, IT help desk, and procurements. I am responsible for ensuring that the computing infrastructure is secure, reliable and highly available to the departmental staff, consultants and customers. I work closely with our CIO to develop and maintain IT policies, standards and guidelines for infrastructure and platform services. Additionally, I collaborate with other IT units to envision and execute the IT strategic plans and promote innovation in new technologies adoption within the department to support the department’s business needs. I assumed the position of chief technology officer in September 2023.

IICA: Does your organization have a strategic plan, and may we hyperlink to it? Do you contribute to writing that strategic plan?

Sharma: We have a published data strategy for our department which has been developed collaboratively across our business program teams and information technology branch. You can see the same here.

IICA: What big initiatives or projects are on the horizon for data and digital services? What sorts of developing opportunities and RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Sharma: The Consolidated Housing Accountability Application Procurement Project (CHAAPP) will be our key focus for the next two years. This project will help in expanding access to various local assistance grants and loans through online channels. As we move toward use of the latest technology, we will continue seeking support from our consulting partners for subject matter expertise.

Editor’s note: Find more information on the CHAAPP work in a budget change proposal HCD submitted for the 2022-2023 fiscal year.

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

Sharma: Local government technology leaders should look to use technology as a facilitator in improving constituents’ access to public service. In my view, the following areas need increased focus:
  • Cybersecurity — local governments are increasingly targets of cyber attacks, so it is important to invest in measures to protect sensitive data and systems.
  • Leveraging data analytics to gain valuable business insights and make informed decisions that lead to targeted services.
  • Effective adoption of cloud computing to improve service delivery efficiency, minimizing service outages and costs to support.
  • Upskilling the workforce — local governments should invest in training and development programs for their employees to equip them with the necessary technological skills to meet the demands of new technology.
  • Lastly, local governments should work to expand broadband access — which is essential for economic development and social equity — to all residents.

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

Sharma: I consider digital transformation as the process of using technology to improve the way government delivers services to its citizens. This includes using technology to automate processes, improve communication, and make data more accessible. My organization has grown tremendously in the last few years and is still in the early stages of its digital transformation journey. We have made progress, such as cloud migration of most of our applications and website, and launching a new Codes and Standards application to increase online services. CHAAPP is the new project to offer end-to-end support for managing the loans and grants services. I consider our digital transformation a journey to use technology to better deliver all of our services to our citizens in a digital format. It will continually evolve, improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our operations.

IICA: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Sharma: Our estimated annual budget has been in the range of $30 million to $35 million, and we have currently about 85 approved staff positions.

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?

Sharma: I mostly get contacted by prospective vendors through email. Existing vendors do meet us during review meetings.

IICA: Talk a bit about the issue of homelessness, how resolving that is significant for you, and how Data and Digital Services intends to play a role in that.

Sharma: Homelessness is a complex issue that affects individuals, families and communities. Helping people who are unhoused is not only a social service, but it also makes our economy stronger and our communities better. Leveraging data-driven insights and tools, we can more effectively help prevent homelessness, provide timely interventions, and deliver impactful services.

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

  • Significant increase in use of cloud computing.
  • Growing focus on use of data analytics for better decision-making.
  • Cybersecurity.
While continuous threats have necessitated heightened attention to cybersecurity, I am pleasantly surprised seeing adoption of new technologies fueling better service delivery to underserved populations.

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

Sharma: I read your publications and other similar industry publications to get the latest news and analysis on gov tech and SLED trends. I read analyst reports from firms such as Gartner, Forrester and IDC to get insights into emerging gov tech trends and market forecasts.

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

Sharma: I enjoy learning new things and expanding my knowledge base. I also enjoy reading information related to information technology innovation and challenges from a variety of sources — mostly news articles, blog posts, research papers, and other academic works.

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