IE11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

CIOs Delve into Gov Tech Issues and Trends Affecting Texas

Industry Insider — Texas hosted a member event last week in Austin.

Four laptops with a word cloud above them with “big data” as the biggest word.
Wendy Barron, left, of the DMV, and Tanya Acevedo, of CapMetro
Industry Insider — Texas hosted its first Member Briefing on Sept. 23, delving into the most up-to-date government technology issues and trends with two high-profile chief information officers based in Austin.

Wendy Barron, CIO of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles, and Tanya Acevedo, senior vice president and CIO of CapMetro, fielded questions from e.Republic* Chief Innovation Officer Dustin Haisler for about an hour Sept. 23 at The Domain in Austin.

(We have broken the interview into two parts and edited for brevity. Read Part II here.)

Dustin Haisler: Tell us a little bit about your department and how it’s organized.

Tanya Acevedo: The technology services for CapMetro is part of the IT infrastructure, of course, but we’ve really changed to more strategic in the past 10 years. You know, technology has really gotten a seat at the table. And the technology does sit at that table, which is very, very important. And in fact, we’re doing this large Project Connect initiative that’s exclusive, like almost $10 billion. That’s expanding light rail, heavy rail and rapid bus throughout Central Texas.

Wendy Barron: One of the challenges or one of the themes that we’re going through right now is we’re gearing up to do a large modernization project. Some of you might be familiar with the registration and titling system. It’s our core applications. Applications is central to everything we do and in all other opportunities that we have in our agency. We tie into that, so it’s almost 30 years old, and I think ... that’s ... pretty darn old. And it’s just not responsive or agile or any of those things that we really need it to be, and so we are looking to modernize that system and really take a step back and look at everything that we’re doing, and not really just focused on the technology but focused on our operations and how we do business.

Haisler: Outside of the titling and registration projects, what major strategic kind of IT projects do you have going right now?

Barron: We’ve had some problems with some temporary tags and fraud challenges with our licensing and dealers, and so we’ve been working really hard the last six months here to crack down on that to strengthen our processes or procedures — we’re starting at the beginning before you ever get access to the system, verifying that you are who you say you are and that you’re not Joe Blow off the street, pretending to be somebody else. ... So that’s been a big focus for us is really cracking down on fraud, an abuse of our systems around the dealer licensing and temporary tags.

Acevedo: We’re focusing on modernizing our data platform and then changing our architecture. So everything kind of interfaces with this data platform. … One of the premises is that, of course, your operations are going to be data driven, and that that passenger, that customer, is going to have a journey that’s based on the data and what’s driving that cluster. … All the buses, all of the technology on the buses, are sending that data through to the data platform, which so you know, when you’re around long enough, DIR [the Department of Information Resources] started this initiative, where we would share data like this. Local governments would share data, and I was in Travis County as the CIO at the time, going, “This ain’t never going to work.” … So we started working on these little initiatives, and that grew and grew and grew, right?

Haisler: We saw some really interesting dynamics with the pandemic; we saw the emergence of what we call shadow apps, which is where you have departments and lines of business that will sometimes have shadow IT, deploy apps on the edge and you know, start to get involved in some of the implementation process. But how has the role of it shifted, and maybe the role of the CIO?

Barron: The technology implications ... really had depended on just our core infrastructure — people. Desktops really didn’t have the right-sized VPN for the entire workforce to be at home. And so those two things were, you know, you had to pivot very fast to get those things in place. … We actually don’t provide our frontline customer service to our constituents; it’s the tax assessor-collectors in the counties that do, and so that was an added layer of complication. And what we saw with that is, is that we had, especially during the pandemic, we have some counties that completely closed down, and people could go to the county office and register. And we actually have legislation last session that went through to basically call it any willing county. So now if somebody in Travis County can go to Williamson County and register their vehicles, who wouldn’t be willing to accept that?

Acevedo: We were scrambling, just from the airport experience. So we were, we were like, “Oh my gosh, you know, now what are we going to do?” You know, we went from, you know, one of our best years to down to nothing, and we’re trying to figure out, do we make our terminals like event planning and start having a wedding? We had this application that measures diesel fuel, and we’re going through an ERP (enterprise resource planning), we’re cut over to a new ERP, and we needed that feed from the diesel fuel; the finance department needs it. And because it’s an asset, anyway, this is just an example but how critical is it down to the function level. Decided to do something different, and did it renew that contract? And so we didn’t; IT didn’t know about it because then there was some shift. So IT would have been responsible for that, and had that, and we would have been aware of it and had it, they call it three deep, right? So three people deep would have known about that edge device that was really providing a huge asset for us. So now we have to go back to the manual until we can figure out a new system that will handle that. So those are the kinds of things that I’ve seen and I’m experiencing popping up.

Haisler: You know, NASCIO kind of rolled out some guidance saying CIOs are becoming kind of a brokerage model as we think about how the interface is this and all these things, but we’re also seeing new responsibilities on it like diversity, equity and inclusion. What are some of the new hats you might be wearing that weren’t a part of your CIO purview before what’s been outsourced to you to kind of delivers a bond within your organizations?

Barron: I’ve always tried to be inclusive and focus on the people and the technology. … and the bonds that you have with your team, with your business partners. And I’ve always seen that is critically important. … I’ve seen it time and again, where, like, managers will build boxes around those people and oh, you can’t talk to that developer at all because they need to be focused. On coding and that, it doesn’t work. It really doesn’t work. And so you’re really trying to break down those walls and support those relationships. And then, you know, supporting diversity in the workplace. You know, I think, especially in being a woman CIO, it’s really exciting for me to see how many strong women are in CIO positions at the state of Texas and at agencies that are traditionally male-dominated.

Acevedo: We’re really looking into these. We did it at the airport where you put almost like virtual reality goggles on for the sight impaired, and you can navigate through the airport and then work. We expanded and tested a little with children with autism and kind of gave them that experience so they knew what they were going to do before they got to the airport. So we’re kind of testing those types of technology. I’m wondering if that would be a fit for the metaverse, like how we’re going to know what it is like to get on a bus and/or the train and where do you stop and, you know, those are the types of things that we’re looking at but on the internal side.

Next: Part II

*e.Republic is Industry Insider — Texas’ parent company.
Darren Nielsen is the former lead editor for Industry Insider — Texas.