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State Real Estate CIO: ‘I’m Essentially Building an IT Shop from the Ground Up’

An image of Calvin McGee II, CIO and assistant commissioner of the Information Technology Division of the California Department of Real Estate, next to a quote that reads: "Digital transformation isn't just taking non-digital business processes and shoving them into a computer. It's about using information technology to bring greater efficiency and business value. My rule is that it must improve at least one of the following: quality, time or cost."
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.

Calvin McGee II is chief information officer and assistant commissioner of the Information Technology Division at the California Department of Real Estate (DRE), roles he has had since March 2022. His state career spans 23 years, dating to 2000, when he joined the California Department of Education as a project manager/programmer. McGee was most recently IT deputy director at the California State Treasurer’s Office from May 2021-March 2022.

McGee has a Bachelor of Science degree in management information systems and a Master of Business Administration, both from California State University, Sacramento. His professional licenses and certifications include being a Certified Scrum Master by the Scrum Alliance and certified as a Project Management Professional.

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?

McGee: My role as CIO at DRE is an interesting one because I’m the first IT professional who has ever worn the CIO mantle here. Before my arrival at DRE, IT was a part of our Administrative Services Division. “CIO” was another hat the administrative executive wore while directing our IT staff. I am now responsible for both directing IT staff members and leading DRE in its adoption and use of information technology. With my arrival in this position in March 2022, the Real Estate Commissioner divested IT into its own division. Because of that, I’m essentially building an IT shop from the ground up. Over the past year and a half, I’ve been leading the creation of elemental components such as policy and governance. I’ve also reorganized the IT Division. Previously, it was structured and staffed for a purely operational model. I reorganized the IT Division, so instead of being just operational, it now has transformational capabilities such as project management, business analysis and enterprise architecture, in addition to a much deeper security and compliance capability.

IICA: How big a role do you personally play in writing your organization’s strategic plan?

McGee: DRE created its current strategic plan just before my arrival, so I didn’t have a chance to participate. However, several of the initiatives that resulted from that plan have a significant IT component. Because of that, I’ve been heavily involved in the execution of the projects in our Strategic Portfolio. It contains both IT and non-IT projects. Given that I’m a member of DRE’s executive team, I expect to have a key role in the development of our organization’s next strategic plan. My team and I have created an IT strategic plan. As one might expect, we created it in alignment with DRE’s strategic plan. The IT strategic plan covers fiscal year 2023-2024. My IT management team and I are going to engage in IT strategic planning at the end of each fiscal year.

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?

McGee: Our biggest initiative is one that we call our Portal Modernization Project (PMP). The goal of this project is to consolidate, modernize and expand our public-facing systems. Right now, each of our public-facing systems manages a siloed identity. The PMP will bring everything together, resulting in a single identity for our external users. Right now, DRE’s call center is inundated with calls from people who are asking questions about their licensing or examination status, among other questions and concerns. In the months ahead, people will be able to securely access their own profile and get answers to their questions, without calling to speak with one of our agents. There won’t be any RFP associated with the PMP. We’re going to complete the project using existing resources.

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

McGee: I’ll answer this about state government, but I imagine it’s essentially the same for local agencies. We need to stop creating solutions that are so institutional. The state often has an “if you build it, they will come” mentality about systems and processes. Private institutions work to create solutions that are desirable or even enjoyable. Years ago, I had a boss who criticized a system that my team and I created because it didn’t look institutional. She wanted us to remove all the elements that made it friendly and inviting. For instance, although it was an externally facing web-based system, she wanted the graphics removed. Ultimately, we should be creating solutions that are both aesthetically pleasing and user friendly.

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?

McGee: Digital transformation isn’t just taking non-digital business processes and shoving them into a computer. It’s about using information technology to bring greater efficiency and business value. My rule is that it must improve at least one of the following: quality, time or cost. Improving quality is about enhancing the experience for internal and/or external users. That enhancement could be about making a process easier to undergo or just less of a pain to navigate. The concepts of saving time and cost are pretty self-explanatory, but I’ll say those savings should ideally be for both the state and the end users. On a good day, digital transformation brings us improvements in quality, time and cost.

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

McGee: Twenty-five people.

Editor’s note: The Department of Real Estate’s entire budget for FY 2023-24 is $60.5 million, and it is approved for 381 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?

McGee: Email is the best way to start a conversation with me. Our website has information about our functions and lines of business. I prefer that before vendors reach out to me, at the bare minimum, they have a solid concept of what DRE does and how we do it. Regarding social media, although it may sound out of character for someone who works in IT, I personally make very little use of social media.

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

McGee: In my year and a half here at DRE, I’ve had many achievements which make me proud. But I can sum them all up with one phrase: “Changing the face of IT at the Department of Real Estate.” I started that change in my first week here by rebranding our name. Formerly, we were called “Information Technology Services.” I changed the name to the “Information Technology Division.” While that may sound like a minor change, it carried great significance. From a simple perspective, IT went from being an office in the Administrative Services Division to being its own division. However, from a branding perspective, replacing the word “Services” with the word “Division” denoted more than a movement on the org chart. Information Technology Services had been about just that, providing IT services. The Information Technology Division not only provides IT services, it now provides IT leadership. To support that change in IT’s positioning, I’ve made changes to my division’s organizational structure. I’ve also introduced departmental policies and created IT governance structures. In terms of technological achievement, my first year and a half here has been about building the foundation for other technologies, systems and processes that I’m going to introduce down the road. The central theme of that foundation has been a comprehensive cloud migration. I’m excited that I was the first in state government to use Oracle Interconnect for Azure. That is a multicloud environment, which provides a low-latency private connection between our data, which now resides in the Oracle Cloud, and our application environment, which now resides in Azure.

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

McGee: I don’t know that it’s necessarily been a surprise, but I’ve been fascinated by the dichotomy in the response by state IT professionals concerning the developments in artificial intelligence. On one side you have people who are scurrying to get it in place. When I ask those people what their use cases are, they tell me about higher-level items such as AI governance and AI frameworks. On the other side, I have colleagues who are treating these AI advances like the coming of the next pandemic.

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

McGee: Industry Insider.

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

McGee: Most of my hobbies are IT or computer-related. I have rack-mounted commercial network equipment and servers at home. I do a variety of things with those. I’m also into PC gaming and game modding. Then comes the major thing that I do outside of my state job: I’m the senior pastor of a church. In terms of reading, given what I’ve said, it’s probably no surprise that I read the Bible along with biblical theology books and Bible commentaries. I also spend a lot of time reading about technology. These days, most of my reading about technology takes place on the web.

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