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State Human Resources CIO: ‘We Are Really Focusing on the Customer Experience’

An image of Enrique Parker, CIO of the California Department of Human Resources, next to a quote that reads: "What I have seen is a dramatic appetite by not only CalHR itself, but across the entire state in data analytics and insights. And CalHR, being the owner of all the state demographics and data, it is uniquely positioned to deliver those insights."
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.

Enrique Parker is the chief information officer at the California Department of Human Resources, a role he has had since November. The department has an enacted budget for the 2023-2024 Fiscal Year of $169 million and 469 positions, with rounding; the IT unit has 48 positions. Prior to joining CalHR, Parker was chief technology officer at Covered California from 2019-2022, after previously serving as its deputy CIO for nearly two years.

Parker has a Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems from San Francisco State University, a master’s in information assurance from Norwich University, and a leadership agility certificate from Cornell University, per LinkedIn. He is a certified scrum master via Scrum Alliance, a Certified Information Security Professional via the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC2) and a Certified Information Systems Auditor via the Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA).

Industry Insider — California: As CIO at your organization, how do you describe your role? How have your role and responsibilities changed in recent years in terms of their intersection with IT and innovation?

Parker: I’m not sure if the role has changed, since I’m new to the role. What I have seen is a dramatic appetite by not only CalHR itself, but across the entire state in data analytics and insights. And CalHR, being the owner of all the state demographics and data, it is uniquely positioned to deliver those insights not only internally, but externally. We are looking at how to fill that void, between the appetite that exists out there and our ability to deliver those insights in a secure manner and allow not only internal folks to create their own dashboards, but allow potentially, in the future, external entities to do the same and leverage the same data that we have available. We not only look inward as an organization, we look outward at how we can support the departments that we are tasked to support across the state. The other piece that has been front of mind is that with all the challenges that we had in hiring skilled staff, there has been a much more pronounced interest in our ability to attract skilled staff, in our ability to make recruitment easier for potentially out-of-civil-service candidates. That has put us in a position where we are having to take steps to look at our applicant tracking system, our ATS system, and how we can streamline some of those processes. Now, mind you, not everything is technology. It’s all about people, process and technology altogether. So we are doing what we can to modernize our technology processes, but also match that technology with the right process, with the right training, etc.

IICA: Does your organization have a strategic plan, and may we hyperlink to it? How big a role do you personally play in writing that strategic plan?

Parker: CalHR is in the process of actually building its strategic plan. I can share what some of our IT goals are. One is just strategy and maturity. We are going to enhance the CalHR IT operational efficiency and maturity and customer experience. And we’re going to align all our goals and objectives to the business goals and objectives. What we’re trying to do is ensure that all our processes will be designed and developed based on standard processes and procedures, frameworks like [the IT Infrastructure Library] or security frameworks like [the National Institute of Standards and Technology]. We’re going to be aligning ourselves with more general practices out there. But the key to this is that all work that has been done to it will be aligned specifically to some of the business goals and objectives. We are defining a project and portfolio management system across CalHR. We are adopting some more foundational IT operations based on ITIL. We are consolidating systems to ensure that we’re all reducing costs, but we’re also leveraging every system to the max value that we can get. The next one is more on security and risk, which is another objective where we are looking to spread our cybersecurity and risk management. The objective there is to not only secure our digital assets, but also meet regulatory requirements. One of the asks for the organization is to remain innovative and transformative for the organization. For that, we are focusing on full adoption of our cloud strategy for our environment, to give us that agility. We are in the process of adopting some agile scrum framework where it makes sense. We are heavily investing in our hybrid telework experience in the way of tools, training and equipment.

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?

Parker: Definitely there’ll be an RFP or an RFI around anonymous hiring and redacting of information. We don’t know the vehicle yet to which we are going to go with the anonymous hiring, but there will be a procurement. What we’re trying to do is leverage artificial intelligence to help us redact freeform data. And by freeform data, that means resumés, statements of qualifications, cover letters, anything that is submitted by the candidates in a form that we have no control over. We are looking for service providers out there that have that capability already that we can integrate into our ecosystem. That is what we would be procuring. We would like to have a minimum viable product by the end of this year. We are preparing for replacement of our content management system. This will include modernizing our CalHR website, which is a resource for several of the departments and such out there. One of our main initiatives this year is to look at ways to truly implement anonymous hiring within the ATS system. And the challenge is that there’s not one leader out there [about whom] we can say “They have perfected it.” So we are having to build our own. Our goal is to have a strong pilot happening at the end of this year. We’re also looking into modernizing a lot of the tools that we have out there. We recently updated our benefits calculator and not only is it more aesthetically pleasing, but we have taken advantage of three things. One, in the back end, we have done some efficiencies in the ability for the back-end users to update rates. We have enforced some security controls within the app itself. And lastly, we have added additional information within the website to make it an easier journey for the users of that app. This will continue. We have a number of applications that we are modernizing one by one, and as we modernize, we learn and we just get better and better. Out of this experience, one of the things that in the back end we’re trying to accomplish is that we want to establish an operational plan, a release management plan, to not allow these applications to just become stale. We are looking to execute on a plan where we are going to be refreshing these applications on a calendar timeframe so we keep them fresh, we keep them modern, we keep them relevant, as opposed to just build them and let them die, which is an approach that was done before. On the data side, as you may be aware, we are partnering with [the Office of Data and Innovation] on a couple of things. One is accelerating our data analytics culture within CalHR. But we’re revisiting our entire technology stack and really bringing in modern architectures so we can be in a better place and moving from the more antiquated legacy applications to more modern cloud-based, service-oriented applications when it comes to data analytics.

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

Parker: One of the things that I ... leveraged the most when I moved to CalHR is the ability to interact and network with peer groups as well as vendors that have insight into the needs of the government and ideas, and not really just remain siloed within the four walls of CalHR. One of the biggest benefits of being in this particular role is the ability to reach out to other people within my role or outside my role, and openly discuss challenges, opportunities and have those conversations. The one thing that I believe we should be investing heavily in is the adoption of AI. What does this mean to the organization moving forward? I can tell you personally, for myself, the adoption of the technologies that will be built upon AI is as similar and as impactful as the Internet to the 1980s. In the 1980s, when the Internet came about, the technologies that were built upon the Internet and the capabilities and opportunities that existed were tremendous. But the threats and vulnerabilities, if we were to think millions of people’s Social Security numbers would be lost due to hacks in the Internet, we potentially would never have adopted the Internet. But because we blindly went to the opportunities, and honestly, at the time, security was not a major part of this effort. Where we are going right now with AI, we have an opportunity to not redo history. We have an opportunity to be more security conscious, adopt the technology responsibly, ensure that we don’t introduce bias into the technology, and that we are leveraging it to the full potential. We are evaluating and building a policy around AI and machine learning. We will take steps to see how they can be incorporated into our existing systems and help our staff to take advantage of that technology.

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?

Parker: Digital transformation is a combination of technologies and different frameworks, and that all is customer-centric. It is really how to make it easy for the stakeholder, the participant, the consumer of our information to access the data, to process the transaction, whatever transactions they may want. And that drives the different initiatives and objectives of what a digital transformation should look like. It will never be finished. It’s a journey, not a place to land. But when it comes to digital transformation, we are really focusing on the customer experience, who our customer is. We have several initiatives right now that are in support of that, but we believe that the foundational framework for digital transformation is data. We are in the process of modernizing an entire data stack when it comes to analytics. We are partnering with ODI and taking advantage of two of their services. That includes acceleration of the data analytics as well as modernization of a data analytics framework or infrastructure. That will [bring] us to a path where we can expose data, allow analysts the capability to get insights from their data without having to rely, on a regular basis, on IT to provide reports or to provide insights — allow the business to really dive into the data and get their own insights and ask the right questions. We’re also looking for ways to visualize the data better, make those dashboards available, not only internally to CalHR, but to external users that may benefit from understanding this data. We start at the data side of things. We then are moving on to how to expose that information, that content, and that’s where you see the next project that we’re doing, which is rethinking and modernizing our intranet and our extranet and our website. Not only are we going to be moving away from a legacy system, but [there will be] more native cloud services and content management systems out there to be able to continue to deliver that content in real time in a way that is accessible for all types of people, taking into account [Americans with Disabilities Act] compliance and such. Additionally, we’re looking into ways to make internal processes more efficient, more effective. We are delving into robotic process automation. We are working with Microsoft in tandem to look at [how] the Power framework that they have will benefit CalHR. We’re going to be experimenting with chatbots, not only internally, but externally as well. And we are also evaluating how AI can assist us in the process. It’s not something that we are focusing on, but we are keeping an eye on the capabilities in terms of how we can make our process more efficient when it comes to that.                                       

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?

Parker: I’m an active LinkedIn user, so LinkedIn is a good way to reach out to me. I’m definitely interested in maintaining my vendor relationships. I would say I’m open to vendors reaching out. But what would make it easier is to provide an insight into how their product can be of benefit to CalHR in advance. I get vendors just saying, “Hey, we would like to meet to know more about your IT strategy, IT direction.” I probably will not answer those ones, but [more likely ones that say] “Hey, I want to reach out to you because I have this product that does this and that, and would like to see how this product can help you with IT strategy.” At least that gives you a sense. If it fits our data road map or our plan, I definitely will reach out.

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

Parker: Early in the year, CalHR, in collaboration with the California Government Operations Agency, led a statewide targeted recruitment campaign that included in-person and virtual career fairs attended by over 2,000 Californians interested in state government opportunities. The [website] was published with relevant content for potential candidates. Over 8,000 visitors registered to declare their interest. Twenty-one participating departments proactively contacted those registered and offered assistance through the recruitment process. We saw a more than 8 percent year-over-year increase in applications received during the campaign and a 20 percent increase in the new CalCareers user account. The Work for California branding yielded positive engagement results, and much more is planned in the coming months. Early in my tenure at CalHR, I was able to see the technical team in action with unparalleled determination and passion for what they do.

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

Parker: It didn’t surprise me but I’m glad that government is not putting its head in the sand when it comes to artificial intelligence. They are not jumping head-first. We are being very cognizant of the challenges and the risk associated with AI, but we’re tracking it very closely, and we are looking at how to best utilize this new technology. I see this technology as having similar disruption capabilities to the Internet in the 1980s, or what the smartphone has brought in. It’s the springboard of new technologies and capabilities out there that will be transformational for the environment. I’m glad that across my peers and across our agencies, there’s a genuine interest, they’re tracking it closely. And I foresee government taking advantage of a lot of this technology.

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

Parker: I read CIO magazine a lot. I read The Harvard Business Review. I’m a security geek, so [] as well. I get my fun from reading LinkedIn articles. There’s tons of different perspectives and different ideas within that. I have several technology magazines signed up on my Flipboard that allows me to just review, high-level, where everything is happening. But I do get most of my knowledge through networking. My peers, my engineering group. You’ll find me going back and saying, “Hey, I haven’t talked to you for a long time. Let’s do a tech talk and let’s find out what you have going on.” And I get a lot of my ideas from my own staff. They have great ideas, and they are passionate for what they work on.

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

Parker: I always love the water, so you’ll find me in the lake, either boating or bike riding or just hanging out. Folsom Lake, right close by. We do travel where we can, especially outside the country, just to know new cultures. And of course, the kids visit. Of my kids, one is in the Navy. He just joined the Navy. My daughter, she’s in school right now, she wants to go into nursing, and my little one’s just about to start in Sierra College.

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