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Techwire One-on-One: State Lottery CIO on Leadership, Infrastructure Work

“So, beyond the typical responsibilities of a CIO, which include being responsible for the vision, strategic direction, and policy development and management of our IT systems and supporting infrastructure, our program partners require IT to be innovative, flexible, and adaptable to meet their changing needs,” says Jennifer Chan, chief information officer at the California State Lottery.

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Lottery CIO Jennifer Chan is also a champion equestrian. She’s photographed here with her horse Make Me A Cowboy. His “barn name,” the CIO says – or what she calls him – is Willis.
Gail Bates Photography & Advertising
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.

Jennifer Chan is chief information officer for the California State Lottery, a position she has held since January. She was previously special projects administrator at the Employment Development Department (EDD); and, immediately prior, agency chief information officer at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) for nearly two years. The longtime state employee first entered the public sector as a project management analyst at the California State Board of Equalization in 2010, going on to roles including principal at the California Technology Agency, the precursor to the California Department of Technology (CDT); section chief at CDT; and chief of the Technology Governance Division at EDD. Before joining the public sector, Chan worked for Informatix Inc. for nearly seven years.

She has a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in psychology from the University of California, Davis; and a Master of Business Administration from California State University, Sacramento.

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

Chan: The Lottery is different from other state departments in the sense that we operate more like a business. Even though we’re a public agency, we receive no public funding, so we have to raise all of our operating and administrative expenses through the responsible sales of our games while still ensuring that we meet our mission of maximizing supplemental funding to public education. So, beyond the typical responsibilities of a CIO, which include being responsible for the vision, strategic direction, and policy development and management of our IT systems and supporting infrastructure, our program partners require IT to be innovative, flexible, and adaptable to meet their changing needs. For example, we have an entire Sales and Marketing Division that works with professional marketing agencies on promotions and campaigns, so it’s critical that IT is a good, creative and innovative partner to support their marketing efforts to bring in increased sales – e.g., being able to provide unique customer experiences on our website and/or mobile applications. Additionally, vendor and contract management is a critical part of this role for the management of our gaming system contracts. I’m responsible for managing the various IT contracts including a multibillion-dollar gaming contract. That’s not experience that you’re going to get anywhere else. Since I haven’t been here very long, I can’t speak to how the Lottery’s CIO role has changed in recent years. But I can say the experience of being a CIO here is unlike any experience you’ll get with being a CIO in a regular state department.

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

Chan: Since I participate as a member of the executive leadership team, I do have an opportunity to contribute to the Lottery’s strategic plan. Our Business Planning and Research Division is responsible for the development of our annual and three-year business plans as well as our strategic plan. So, they make sure to engage the entire leadership team in the development of these plans. These plans are critical because our operating model is much like a business, so we have to be cognizant of our bottom line and ensure we can contribute as much as possible to public education.

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?

Chan: One of the big things we’re currently working on is a request for information (RFI) for our public website (PWS) to be released in the next six months. We will be using the RFI to help us develop our request for proposal (RFP), which we intend to release in the next 12 months. The RFP will be for website and cloud infrastructure for the maintenance, support and development of our complex PWS.

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?

Chan: Digital transformation goes hand-in-hand with innovation. To me, it’s about seeing how we can automate or make things more efficient and effective through digital technology; and often by replacing manual processes or perhaps even older technology with newer technology. How will I know when it’s finished? Well, for a specific digital transformation effort, that would be being able to validate that the business objectives and the requirements for the effort have been met. But for digital transformation as a whole, I don’t think there will be a time when it will ever be finished. Technology is constantly changing and evolving at an exponential speed. In just the last five years alone, we have seen huge strides in the areas of artificial intelligence, increased cybersecurity postures and increased automation. There’s still a lot to do everywhere with respect to digital transformation because we can’t move at the same speed that technology is evolving. I see digital transformation as an ongoing, continuous effort.

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

Chan: My overall IT budget for Fiscal Year 2020-2021 is roughly around $141 million, and I currently have around 107 positions. My estimated overall IT budget for FY 21-22 is approximately $156 million.

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?

Chan: I appreciate vendors that have done their homework before reaching out to me. I can’t tell you how many vendors have cold-called or emailed me not knowing what the Lottery’s business is, getting my name wrong, not knowing how to do business with California state government, and/or inundating me with emails and phone calls multiple times every week. If you want to annoy me, that’s a great way to do that. And if you really want to get on my bad side, all you need to do is bypass IT and try to sell something to my program counterparts. That is a big “no-no” in my book because everything IT should go through my shop first. As far as social media goes, I’m not a big LinkedIn user, though I do check it occasionally. So, the best way to reach out to me is probably via email. However, that said, if there’s an interest in something, we’ll be in contact. If you haven’t heard back from us, it’s likely because it’s not something we’re interested in right now.

Techwire: In this position or in your previous position as agency CIO, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Chan: The achievement that I am most proud of is being the coach for the 2021 Project Management Leadership Academy (PMLA). This is my second time having the opportunity to be a PMLA coach and I love working with the students, mentors and CDT. It’s such a rewarding opportunity to be able to give back to the IT community and help up-and-coming IT leaders and PM professionals!

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

Chan: I would change how the IT MSA (Master Service Agreement) works. For the CMAS (California Multiple Award Schedules), DGS (California Department of General Services) has changed how vendors can prequalify on a continuous basis, which has made using it very convenient. However, the IT MSA still has specific qualifying periods for vendors to get on the IT MSA. And the overall term for the IT MSA is only ever a couple of years. I would recommend structuring the IT MSA to be more like how the CMAS is managed and administered now.

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

Chan: Reading Techwire, of course! But also attending and/or participating in various IT conferences and vendor forums.

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

Chan: My main hobby is riding horses. I compete on the world and national level and am a multiple world, national and state champion. I also like to travel, spend time with my dog and family, and to read all kinds of fictional books, just as long as they’re not too scary or sad.

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