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Techwire One-on-One: Air Resources CIO on Rise of Data, Cybersecurity

“Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. We are navigating another technology transformation, requiring us to move past some of our previous practices and integrate and support technology as a cross-functional business process,” says Steve Grogan, chief information officer and chief of the Office of Information Services at the state of California Air Resources Board.

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As part of Techwire’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 and cybersecurity leaders.

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Steve Grogan, chief information officer and chief of the Office of Information Services at the state of California Air Resources Board.
Steve Grogan is the chief information officer and chief of the Office of Information Services (OIS) at the state of California Air Resources Board (CARB), where he has worked since March 2010. Prior to joining CARB, Grogan was assistant director of technology services at the California Department of Child Support Services; and before joining the state, Grogan’s private-sector work centered on managing revenue, production and networking operations.

Grogan holds a bachelor’s degree in social science.

Techwire: As CIO of your organization, how do you describe your role; and how have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?

Grogan: The California Air Resources Board’s (CARB) mission is to promote and protect public health, welfare and ecological resources through effective reduction of air pollutants while recognizing and considering effects on the economy. CARB is the lead agency for climate change programs and oversees all air pollution control efforts in California to attain and maintain health-based air quality standards.

As CIO, my role is to support the CARB mission and keep the lights on. This is a simple statement but makes what we do more digestible. However, it is an understatement on the complexity of our business and the technology and skills needed to accomplish it. Technology seems to evolve daily, and the gray line between business and technology has disappeared. Technology is an integral part of every aspect of the organization. I am proud to support the CARB mission, and I have been fortunate to work with an impressive group of IT professionals in (Office of Information Services) OIS dedicated to our mission. Recently, a CARB executive officer expressed that if the technology component at CARB is unsuccessful, then CARB is unsuccessful, and vice versa.

When I joined CARB, our initial efforts were focused on establishing a governance process that was flexible and bringing the organization’s technology into compliance with state efforts, such as the governor’s reorganization plan (AB 2408). Our long, but successful, journey included migration of our onsite data center to the state data center, reducing our carbon footprint. We assumed responsibility for procurement of IT goods and services, IT budgets and telecommunications. We partnered with our divisions to upgrade software in our laboratory systems, implementing automation efficiencies with time keeping and assignment tracking. We also created a project management office (PMO) and established security operations. Today, we continue to transform the technology office and are enthusiastic about representing technology for our new southern California headquarters in Riverside.

Technology continues to evolve at a rapid pace. We are navigating another technology transformation, requiring us to move past some of our previous practices and integrate and support technology as a cross-functional business process. As I mentioned earlier, the gray line between business and technology has disappeared. The need and use of data is exploding. At CARB, that includes emissions data, satellite data, GIS data and there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight for what is needed. Artificial intelligence, use of the cloud and infrastructure services are needed, along with data visualization tools. We are working collaboratively, as teams, to innovate and deliver new products and capabilities faster that we have ever done before, harnessing the great talent and skills that the CARB management and staff have in information technology, science, engineering, leadership and administration.

Along our journey over the last year, we were deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic will forever be a significant note in our history. It disrupted the lives of so many in the state and nation. It pushed our medical systems to capacity and challenged our resilience and creativity with technology. It also surfaced as a great reminder of the socio-economic impacts that can occur during a crisis or that may already exist.

Before COVID-19, it might have taken several months to plan the implementation of new tools or software. During COVID-19, OIS managers engaged immediately by structuring tasks to be accomplished in a condensed time frame, worked directly with our Executive Office on timely approvals and provided daily updates on process and process improvement. We established a teleworking environment within a remarkable two-week time frame. We then expanded our focus as needed and remedied the inevitable challenges quickly.

It was, and is, very rewarding to lead OIS and work together to bring organizational mobility through the use of laptops and implementing additional complex remote computing needs. CARB staff are motivated, engaged and eager to learn new technology. We found new ways of connecting professionally by using virtual meetings and working in small groups, ultimately discovering effective approaches to maximize the technology implemented. Our security staff worked diligently to integrate systems and network cybersecurity as needed. This new mass organizational mobility also serves as a great reminder that we need to continue to be flexible and evolve our technology, using continuous integration and development and be a cultural revolutionary for the organization. The pandemic accentuated the fundamental importance of technology and how critical it is for us to have resilient processes.

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

Grogan: Over the past couple of years, I have had the opportunity to participate in several strategic planning efforts. My goal in these efforts was to represent key areas: enhancing innovation and good stewardship of technology; ensuring data management; integrating cybersecurity and privacy; and retaining and developing a skilled workforce.

I have also had the opportunity, under the direction of our agency information officer, Sergio Gutierrez, and other CIOs from within (the California Environmental Protection Agency) CalEPA, to partner and develop IT goals and objectives for the CalEPA plan. Within CARB, I participated with our Executive Office and division chiefs to create a strategic road map for the organization. Under my direction, we created an internal strategic plan for CARB OIS.

Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming in 2021? What sorts of RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Grogan: Some initiatives to be on the lookout for include cloud technologies, Dev Ops, continuing investment in cybersecurity and digital transformation. Additionally, look for new regulations from our programs that may have the need for information technology.

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

Grogan: The formal definition of “digital transformation” is integrating digital technology into business program areas and identifying operational delivery. Technical jargon can be confusing, so I communicate the technological aspects in layman’s terms to our stakeholders. Key components are innovation, cultural change, vision, and the customer and employee experience. CARB staff have always led innovation and vision regarding the customer experience. It is an ongoing part of our culture, and we are aligning with the process of continuous integrations and continuous development, utilizing the vast set of skills and talent across all of CARB.

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

Grogan: Our estimated budget is $34 million, including personnel and security. OIS has 85 staff.

Techwire: 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?

Grogan: I receive many emails and phone calls from vendors, and I encourage vendors do their research before contacting me. There are many ways to become educated about CARB, through researching our regulations, reading the information posted on our website and viewing our public meetings. Taking the time and doing homework in advance helps to establish and build relationships between CIOs and the vendor community.

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

Grogan: I have been part of many achievements during my tenure here at CARB. These include transitioning from our onsite data center to the state data center, creating the PMO, and developing and highlighting the importance of information security operations. Other achievements include successful projects like the upgrade and redesign of our CARB website to Drupal to ensure ease of use by the general public, cloud operations, our culture of innovation, taking on management of IT procurements and, most recently, the overnight teleworking transition. This significant change has expanded IT opportunities and increased productivity. I believe that we will not go back to the way we were. While these accomplishments are important, not one has been implemented without exceptional staff contributing to the outcome. I have been very fortunate to work with a dedicated group of scientists, engineers, administrative and IT staff. I have also had executive mentors who were champions of technology.

I find working with people who are innovative and dedicated to the CARB mission to be the greatest reward.

Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Grogan: In general, we do pretty well in this area. However, we are noticing an increase in the number of procurements, along with an increase in complexity. We are looking at software that would help improve the efficiency. We are also considering automated reminders and ways to get faster signatures.

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

Grogan: Since most of the communication from the gov tech sector has gone virtual, I am finding it easy to attend the State of California Academy’s tech briefings, webinars and on-demand events. Engaging with the vendor community in these venues is beneficial.

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

Grogan: I have had an interest in working with stained glass for many years and enjoy the design and art side of the hobby. I also like to work with wood. As an amateur social scientist, I love to read about people and technology, how it impacts them, what we expect from it and how it changes the way we work.

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