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Techwire One-on-One: Tax, Fee CIO on Role, AI, Data Analytics Work

“The role of the CIO has moved from being primarily technical to one that requires an understanding of the business requirements of the department and prioritizes our customer needs. Therefore, we are constantly adapting to meet their needs and developing forward-looking technology solutions,” says Scott Capulong, chief information officer at the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration.

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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.

Scott Capulong is the chief information officer for the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration, a position he has held since April 2019. A more than 25-year state veteran, he was most recently CDTFA’s project director and served as acting CIO at the California State Board of Equalization in 2016 and 2017. The State Board of Equalization was restructured by the Taxpayer Transparency and Fairness Act of 2017 into three separate entities: the BOE, CDTFA and the Office of Tax Appeals.

Capulong joined BOE in 1995 in Santa Ana and came to Sacramento three years later to join its Technology Services Division. He joined leadership in 2015, working in app development before becoming acting CIO. At CDTFA, the Centralized Revenue Opportunity System (CROS) is among his major projects.

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?

Capulong: As the CIO of one of the leading tax agencies, I am responsible for the overall information technology environment and infrastructure that supports 37 tax and fee programs and manages $74 billion in revenue. My role is to support the program areas in achieving their business objectives by delivering innovative, sustainable, and cost-effective technology solutions. I have worked for this department for more than 25 years and have seen numerous changes to both the department and the CIO’s role and responsibilities. The role of the CIO has moved from being primarily technical to one that requires an understanding of the business requirements of the department and prioritizes our customer needs. Therefore, we are constantly adapting to meet their needs and developing forward-looking technology solutions.

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

Capulong: CDTFA’s first strategic plan was developed in 2018 and we are currently in the process of updating the plan. As one of the deputy directors for the department, I am directly involved in this strategic effort to help drive change. Concurrently, my division has partnered with Gartner Consulting and we are refreshing the IT strategic plan to align with and support the department’s business objectives.

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?

Capulong: We just successfully finished the last rollout of our major business transformation initiative, the Centralized Revenue Opportunity System (CROS) Project. Between now and August 2021, our vendor (FAST Enterprises) is transitioning maintenance and operation responsibilities of the system to CDTFA. We have been preparing for this transition over the past several years by having our team members take an increasingly greater role in system development and maintenance activities. We will continue to make enhancements to CROS as business needs change and legislative mandates are enacted. Beyond CROS, we will continue with smaller, short-term initiatives that support the overall technology strategy. That includes expanding our use of artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics, enhancing our security profile, and developing new tools for our team members to make them more efficient.

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?

Capulong: Digital transformation is not just automating manual or paper processes but looking at the business problem and understanding the objective. Only then can we use technology to develop new, innovative solutions. CROS has moved the department a long way toward digital transformation in our tax collection, but we have other operational areas where we still have real opportunities to enhance and automate our processes. We are continuously reviewing existing operations and evaluating how we can make them more efficient and effective for the department.

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

Capulong: Our IT budget, which includes the CROS Project, is approximately $60 million, and we have 350 employees. The department’s overall budget (Fiscal Year 2020-2021) is $629 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?

Capulong: I prefer to initiate contact with the vendor community, but they can contact my assistant to provide information about their services or products so that I can better understand their offerings. The Technology Services Division (TSD) directory can be found on our website at

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

Capulong: The CROS project was the most significant technology initiative this department has ever undertaken and, although there were challenges, the project was highly successful in integrating all our tax programs into one system.

Additionally, I am proud of my team for providing a work-from-home (WFH) capability for the entire department in the weeks following the start of the pandemic. That included deploying more than 2,000 laptops, standing up a new (virtual private network) VPN infrastructure, implementing a (voice over Internet protocol) VoIP system, and developing new tools to support the WFH environment.

Also, TSD partnered with our External Affairs division colleagues in redesigning our external website and our intranet for our team members. We completed both projects solely with internal resources, during COVID-19, in under one year. Our No. 1 focus and priority was customer service — both externally for our taxpayers and internally for our team members. It was a fantastic opportunity for the team to come together and feel a sense of accomplishment.

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

Capulong: I would like to see the process streamlined so that procurements take weeks, not months. I’m encouraged by the new Request for Innovative Ideas (RFI2) process, which provides a more flexible approach to procurement.

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

Capulong: Naturally, I read Techwire every day! But I also do my research by reading various publications, attending technology conferences, and meeting regularly with my colleagues at other departments.

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

Capulong: I enjoy spending time with friends and family. I have two teenage sons who started getting into videogaming a few years ago. Mainly so we’d have things to talk about, I started gaming as well! I like to keep up with current events and read (The Associated Press) AP news feed every day.

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