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Agency CIO Honored in Yearly Award Ceremony

Texas’ annual IT Leadership Forum awards recognize outstanding public-sector IT leaders from across state agencies.

Ricardo Blanco, CIO of the Year.jpg
Ricardo Blanco
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The agency with the largest footprint in the state has been modernizing IT systems on a continual basis, and state technologists and commissioners noted the efforts and successes by recognizing the agency chief information officer. In a system that serves multiple demographic groups with health and medical services, nutrition programs and mental health care, leadership and a solid team are needed to move systems forward.

Ricardo Blanco, deputy executive commissioner of IT and CIO of the Texas Health and Human Services (HHS) system, was named CIO of the Year at the Texas IT Leadership Forum held this week in Austin.

Under Blanco’s guidance, the agency’s data center operations team consolidated almost 900 servers into the state’s data center services program. The Riata Migration Project involved relocating the state Medicaid Management Information System (MMIS) and its applications from the Riata Data Center to the state-owned data center supported by the Department of Information Resources (DIR).

During a session on cross-boundary collaboration, Blanco spoke about moving projects forward and about how he works with his IT team to get things done. During his time at HHS, he said, the agency has secured some $60 million to support its 10-year modernization plan.

On collaboration, he said, “It’s been a very positive experience for Health and Human Services.”

Collaboration “has allowed … a little bit more on the cross-organizational piece, not just with our business partners, but with our vendor partners. We couldn’t have done a lot of what we did on our own and, of course, with the agencies. We partnered with DIR early on: We had some data issues [that] we worked on and came up with solutions together. … For us it’s been very positive.”

Regarding accomplishments of the agency’s IT team, which includes technologists across regions and deputy CIOs, he said: “There are very good examples of how we’ve driven the organization and modernized. Especially an agency our size in the past two and a half years.”

Those projects include:
  • Anita, a 24/7 virtual agent that interacts with staff and submits IT service requests on their behalf. Anita receives over 400 interactions weekly and consistently receives excellent ratings from its customers.
  • IT Help Central, a self-service ticketing system where staff can search knowledge articles and request specific IT services. It improved the customer experience by streamlining the request process, and also provided reprieve for the help desk, who experienced a 70 percent increase in calls during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Take Charge Texas, which supports HIV patients in accessing services from the Department of State Health Services (DSHS).
  • Gavel, which supports agency policy inquiries by allowing users to get real-time reports and maintain the inquiry information in a shared environment.

Key performance indicators — such as incident assignment and resolution, application and network availability, and workstation encryption and update — are routinely above target, according to the award document. Ninety-two percent of projects are running within budget, timeline and expectation.

During the panel on collaboration, Blanco outlined points to consider when getting ready to launch a project. Do you:
  • Have a plan?
  • Know priorities?
  • Understand how it supports the agency mission?

In a past event, Blanco shared stats on the state’s largest agency. It serves 7.5 million program recipients and supports 40,000 customers across the state, as well as more than 125 websites.

IT employees and contractors number about 1,700. The agency has a reported a $39.4 billion overall budget and an estimated $1.4 billion IT budget.

“I just am very, very grateful for our IT team,” Cecile Erwin Young, executive commissioner of the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, said during the event’s closing session.

“We couldn’t do any of our business without the work that they do day in and day out, at night. … We do have staff working 24 hours a day because if our systems go down, we can’t do our work, and it is very important for our clients and for our staff that the IT systems work. And so, you know, just understanding how important that is and how grateful we are. I will leave you with that.”

Awardees recognized included many state agency technologists. Amanda Crawford, CIO of DIR, presented them. They are:

Amanda Crawford standing on a stage clapping.
Amanda Crawford
Wayne Egeler, program operations director for the Texas Department of Information Resources.
Dorothy Fallin, manager of the Enterprise Applications Group in the Texas Workforce Commission.
Joe Grace, infrastructure services director for the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Jacqueline Hrncir, IT manager for the city of Austin.
Jackie Jarvis, application services director, Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Leisha Johnson, section manager of customer relationship management for the Texas Department of Transportation.
John Kelley, director of IT system services for the Health and Human Services Commission.
Sai Kuchakulla, IT manager for the city of Austin.
Donnie Lord, director of Applications for the Texas Department of Transportation.
Greg Miller, manager of the Active Directory/Windows Team, Texas Workforce Commission.
David Newton, IT operations and service delivery director for Capital Metro.
Chris Oglesby, associate managing director of Help Central at Texas Tech University.
Simon Skedd, deputy director of IT for the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation.
Jonathan Tanzer, director of product management, Capital Metro.
Shelly Walraven, director of IT Budget and Human Resources, Texas Tech University.
Rae D. DeShong is a Dallas-based e.Republic staff writer and has worked at The Dallas Morning News and as a community college administrator.