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State Traffic Safety CIO: ‘The Pandemic Accelerated Our Transformation’

An image of Matt DeMelo, deputy director of technology and chief information officer of the California Office of Traffic Safety, next to a quote that reads: "I feel that state government has made positive changes in its approach to information technology. Many walls have been broken down and there is more collaboration, information sharing, and mentorship opportunities."
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.

Longtime state of California executive Matt DeMelo is deputy director of technology and chief information officer at the California Office of Traffic Safety (OTS). He joined the state in November 2012 as a marketing analyst at the California Public Employees’ Retirement System, a role he held for more than two years before joining the California Department of Transportation in July 2015 as a field inspector. DeMelo came to OTS in August 2016 as a program coordinator, ascending through several roles before serving as acting deputy director of technology and administration in April 2022.

DeMelo studied computer science at Santa Rosa Junior College and earned an Associate of Arts degree in general business administration and management from American River College.

Industry Insider — California: As deputy director of technology and chief information officer for your organization, how do you describe your role? Where do your role and its responsibilities fit in your organization’s ecosystem?

DeMelo: My role is immersive. The Office of Traffic Safety is a small department with a wonderful culture of collaboration. This provides opportunities for me to be engaged in every aspect of our work that best supports staff. Technology is evolving faster than ever, which is exciting to implement and involves leadership and strategic planning, infrastructure maintenance and operation, and cybersecurity efforts. I also act as the first line of support when needed, which is why staying on top of technology changes and trends is important.

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?

DeMelo: The OTS has a Strategic Management Plan, and the next iteration is currently being developed. While the plan guides our department’s actions, vision, mission and values, there is information technology strategic planning that I want to implement that will guide all aspects of technology investments and services.

Editor’s note: Find the Office’s 2020-2023 Strategic Management Plan here.

IICA: What big initiatives or projects are coming up at the Office? What sorts of developing opportunities and RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

DeMelo: I’ve established a 30-60-90-day plan to achieve short- and long-term goals for the department. I am currently auditing our technology environment and conducting stakeholder meetings to determine needs. One big project will be updating our Grants Electronic Management System (GEMS), a Salesforce-based system used to handle every step of the grant process. The goal is to simplify grant management and make the work environment user-friendly for both our staff and grantees.

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

DeMelo: I feel that state government has made positive changes in its approach to information technology. Many walls have been broken down and there is more collaboration, information sharing, and mentorship opportunities. Smaller offices like the OTS have been able to leverage the knowledge and experience of larger departments to improve our IT environment.

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?

DeMelo: Digital transformation for the OTS would be a 100 percent digital footprint and enabling our staff to work “out-of-pocket.” It’s saying goodbye to paper and providing information and services anywhere and on any device. The OTS has always kept track of the latest technology that could be used efficiently, such as our robust Salesforce environment and digital signature process. The pandemic accelerated our transformation with an effective deployment of Microsoft applications that support our remote-centered staff. We’re currently working to migrate our infrastructure to the cloud, eliminating hardware where possible.

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

DeMelo: Due to the size of our department, our IT budget is much smaller than most state departments. However, we embrace the digital-first mindset and are able to maximize our resources to support our staff with five dedicated IT employees.

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?

DeMelo: Working for the state is my third career. The prior two were in customer service and sales, respectively. Because of that experience, I prefer to contact vendors directly whenever there are new products or services that would enhance the work environment. I would want a vendor to be prepared to have candid discussions, provide good customer service, and conduct business with integrity.

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

DeMelo: It would have to be our transition to remote work during COVID-19. That is one of the greatest examples of adaptation, collaboration and teamwork. It took the entire office to make that transition successfully. We were able to procure and deploy the necessary resources very quickly. The California State Transportation Agency also created a workgroup to review settings and configurations for Microsoft 365 applications to ensure that interagency collaboration could continue in a secure manner.

IICA: What has surprised you most in government technology during the past 12 months?

DeMelo: The state’s response to generative artificial intelligence. It’s a transformative technology that is here to stay. It’s important to understand how it can be leveraged for public benefit in a safe and effective manner.

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

DeMelo: Legislation and the occasional white paper for research based on needs. It’s important to be knowledgeable of the latest technologies to meet state requirements and to use them in an effective manner for the office.

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

DeMelo: I enjoy the outdoors and spend my free time camping, hiking, backpacking, and exploring the road less traveled. I enjoy reading the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child. I’ve read all the books and am looking forward to the next installment.

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