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State Corrections CIO: ‘My Role Is to Evaluate People, Processes, Technology and Dollars’

As part of Industry Insider — Florida’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 leaders.

Ruth Lang is the chief information officer for the Florida Department of Corrections. She has more than 30 years of private- and public-sector IT experience, including serving as deputy CIO for the Oregon Department of Revenue, director of consulting services for Solid Solutions Enterprises Inc., a senior principal for Kaiser Permanente and a project management office director for the city and county of San Francisco.

During her time with the Oregon Department of Revenue, Lang oversaw the procurement, management, development, operations and improvement of all business solutions used by the department. She also was responsible for implementing application strategies, directing the agency’s application portfolio and executing all department-level IT projects.

Before that, Lang carried out several extensive IT projects as director of consulting services for Solid Solutions Enterprises Inc., including implementing project management offices; managing implementations of state law enforcement communication systems; and managing the design, configuration, testing and migration of statewide data centers.

She holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration, management and operations from Purdue University.

Industry Insider — Florida: As CIO of your organization, how do you describe your role? How have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?

Lang: As a chief information officer, my role is to evaluate people, processes, technology and dollars and determine how effective these are in meeting the organization’s goals and objectives. For instance, if the technology is obsolete or at end of life, then the assessment of the dollars and the resources will determine how quickly we can upgrade the technology. In addition to managing operations to meet our mission, the CIO also needs to plan for emerging technology that aligns with our organization’s mission beyond just managing IT infrastructure.

This role has evolved significantly, shifting from traditional IT operations to being central in driving digital transformation, leveraging emerging technologies like AI, cloud computing and data analytics and ensuring robust cybersecurity. My role involves close collaboration with other executives, integrating technology strategies with business processes and playing a key role in the strategic decision-making process, thus shaping the organization’s future in a technology-driven world.

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

Lang: During my tenure, the project I’m most proud of is the successful implementation of our integrated data management system. This system has revolutionized our approach to data handling and decision-making, significantly improving operational efficiency and enabling more informed, data-driven strategic decisions. The project was a complex endeavor, involving technical challenges and extensive collaboration across various departments. Its success has not only streamlined our processes but also laid a solid foundation for leveraging advanced data analytics, marking a significant milestone in our organization's digital transformation journey.

IIFL: What projects will you be looking to fund in the upcoming fiscal year?

Lang: For the next fiscal year, we’re looking to fund projects focusing on application modernization, cybersecurity enhancements, artificial intelligence and cloud computing. We are preparing the requests for legislative consideration to support these initiatives.

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

Lang: Digital transformation, as I see it, is the comprehensive integration of digital technology into all areas of a business, fundamentally changing how we operate and deliver value. It involves more than just adopting new technologies; it’s about a fundamental shift in the business’ functioning, fostering a culture of innovation and adaptability. Our organization is making significant strides in this journey and is currently at an intermediate stage.

We measure our success in this transformation by observable improvements in service delivery, operational efficiency and customer engagement. However, digital transformation is never truly complete, per se. It’s perpetually a step behind innovation. Keeping pace with and adapting to ongoing technological innovations is the real indicator that we are ‘complete’ in a sense. This process is inherently ongoing, and the goal is to continuously evolve with the digital landscape, ensuring that our operations are utilizing the most efficient tools to meet our objectives.

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

Lang: IT staffing ratios are determined by the number of IT resources compared to the number of resources that they support. This ratio doesn’t include the number of applications or servers that the IT staff support. The average ratio in the state of Florida agencies is 36:1, which indicates that for one IT resource there are 36 resources that they support. At the Department of Corrections, it is 123:1.

IIFL: Will any of your agency’s apps, platforms or resources be impacted by the upcoming switch of the state’s accounting and cash management system, FLAIR, to PALM?

Lang: Yes, the transition from FLAIR to PALM will impact some of our platforms, especially in financial management and reporting systems. We are actively working on ensuring a smooth transition. Our IT PMO is heavily involved and assisting in this large transition.

IIFL: What do you read to stay abreast of government technology/SLED sector developments?

Lang: I regularly read publications like Government Technology* and attend SLED sector webinars to stay informed.

IIFL: What do you think is the greatest technology challenge in Florida?

Lang: In Florida, the greatest technology challenge is striking a delicate balance between advancing cybersecurity measures and the swift pace of digital service delivery. The state faces the complex task of modernizing outdated systems, a process that demands meticulous planning and execution. Concurrently, there’s a pressing need to integrate artificial intelligence into these systems and practices. This integration is not just about technological upgradation but also involves addressing the ethical, privacy and security concerns associated with AI. Ensuring that these evolving systems are robust, secure and capable of meeting the increasing demands of digital services while incorporating AI in a responsible and effective manner represents a significant and multifaceted challenge for the region.

IIFL: What advice would you give someone who would like to lead an IT department?

Lang: To lead an IT department successfully in today’s fast-paced and ever-evolving tech landscape, it’s crucial to cultivate a diverse skill set that encompasses both technical proficiency and strong soft skills. While deep technical knowledge is essential, equally important are leadership qualities, strategic thinking and effective communication skills. A modern IT leader should also be adept at fostering innovation, managing change and driving digital transformation initiatives. Additionally, understanding the nuances of cybersecurity, data management and emerging technologies like AI and cloud computing is imperative. It’s important to stay abreast of the latest industry trends and challenges and to nurture a culture of continuous learning and adaptability within your team. Balancing the technical aspects with a keen focus on aligning IT strategies with business goals and building strong, collaborative relationships across the organization is key to thriving in this role.

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

Lang: I would advocate for more streamlined and flexible procurement processes to quickly adapt to technological advancements.

IIFL: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn?

Lang: I prefer vendors to contact me via email or professional networks like LinkedIn.

IIFL: How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Lang: Vendors should thoroughly understand our organization’s goals, current tech stack and challenges before a meeting. Coming to me with superfluous information or products that don’t align to my organization wastes precious time that we do not have, so it's imperative that a vendor understands their audience. At our core, our biggest goals are to always manage safety for our inmates and officers.

IIFL: What conferences do you attend?

Lang: I regularly attend the Gartner IT Symposium and the annual CIO Leadership Forums, as well as ACA.

IIFL: What are you reading or listening to for fun? What do you do to unplug in your downtime?

Lang: For fun, I enjoy reading, writing short stories and spending time playing chess with family and friends.

*Note: Industry Insider — Florida and Government Technology are both a part of e.Republic.