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Techwire One-on-One: Prison Authority CIO on Strategic Plan, IT Projects

“In my opinion, the value of digital transformation is most evident when we create meaningful efficiencies, increase transparency and improve the user experience. As with many agencies in the state, CALPIA is continually transforming. I do not anticipate a day where we say we are finished; only a day where we ask ourselves what we’re going to tackle next,” says Suzie Changus, CIO for the California Prison Industry Authority.

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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.

Suzie Changus is the chief information officer at the California Prison Industry Authority (CALPIA), a position she has held since June 2018. She was most recently senior Salesforce business analyst/administrator at Western Health Advantage, after serving as senior Salesforce administrator, scrum master and IT project manager at the company.

Changus holds an Executive MBA in business administration and management from California State University, Sacramento, and a bachelor of science in information technology from the University of Phoenix. She has a certificate in executive leadership from the University of California, Davis, and is a Salesforce Certified Administrator.

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?

Changus: Previously, the CIO was a more technical position, focused primarily on implementing IT systems and solutions and keeping them operational. Today, the role is more strategic and is not strictly focused on the technology, but how technology can support the various goals and demands of an organization. As CIO of CALPIA, I oversee the Management Information Systems and Project Management teams. These groups support our IT infrastructure, systems and services in institutions statewide as well as execute initiatives that support the vision and mission of the agency. My role is heavily dependent on building strong relationships, managing change, and supporting the ideas and efforts of my fantastic teams.

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

Changus: I am extremely fortunate to be in a position to spearhead CALPIA’s strategic planning efforts. My team is responsible for the development and implementation of our Strategic Business Plan, as well as measuring our performance to ensure we are meeting our goals and objectives as an agency. Our mission: CALPIA is a self-funded, customer-focused organization that reduces recidivism and enhances prison and public safety by providing incarcerated individuals with life-changing training opportunities for successful re-entry into the community. The Strategic Business Plan reflects our commitment to this mission.

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?

Changus: The largest initiative we are tackling this year is the replacement of our enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution. Our current system has been in place for more than 12 years and no longer meets the needs of the agency. Our Operations Team, which oversees our manufacturing and supply chain, will benefit greatly from updated, system-enabled business processes and efficiencies. Additionally, our Fiscal Services Team is expecting to have an increased ability to access real-time financial data; this is key for reporting to executive leadership and enhancing our ability to make data-driven decisions. The RFP for this effort was distributed late January.

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?

Changus: Digital transformation is the infusion of technology-powered capabilities into the organization’s business processes, models and domains. In my opinion, the value of digital transformation is most evident when we create meaningful efficiencies, increase transparency and improve the user experience. As with many agencies in the state, CALPIA is continually transforming. I do not anticipate a day where we say we are finished; only a day where we ask ourselves what we’re going to tackle next.

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

Changus: We have approximately 35 employees among our Information Services teams. Our budget is comparatively smaller than most state agencies.

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?

Changus: LinkedIn is a great option as it provides a way to quickly understand what the vendor’s organization is about (and minimizes the email clutter we all experience). Ideally, vendors educate themselves about CALPIA prior to reaching out so they have a good understanding of how a product or service may be relevant and useful to the agency.

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

Changus: One of the achievements I’m most proud of is our 2021-2024 Strategic Business Plan. This project was a huge effort that involved contributors from every level of the agency. We took a very thorough and inclusive approach in our data gathering by engaging formerly and currently incarcerated individuals, our partners and vendors, staff from institutions across the state, and members of the Prison Industry Board. An output of our sessions includes an objective focused on modernization and keeps our attention on continuing to add value to the agency through technology solutions.

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

Changus: As most who work in state government know, the IT procurement process can be a learning curve in and of itself. I am still fairly new to the procurement side of things … ask me again in a year and I may have a different response.

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

Changus: I read Techwire, the e.Republic blog* and other gov tech publications.

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

Changus: As far as hobbies, they are very centered around my 11-year-old son, who lives for soccer practice and is learning how to code. As for reading, I consume quite a bit of news. The books I am most drawn to are typically stories about people with grit and resilience; frequently involving people who faced challenges and made a choice to act in a way that altered their trajectory in a positive or growth-driven direction.

Techwire: What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

Changus: The most rewarding thing is being able to play a part in improving the lives of the incarcerated population. Before joining CALPIA, I never would have imagined what we can make possible inside prison walls. I am still amazed by the Code.7370 program we deliver in partnership with The Last Mile. The software development training program teaches incarcerated individuals current coding languages so they may develop the skills necessary for successful re-entry and employment in the technology sector upon release. Having the opportunity to witness people’s lives changed from incarcerated individual to productive and contributing member of society is what gets me out of bed each and every day.

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

*e.Republic is the parent company of Techwire.