State organizations are often confusing labyrinths – and difficult for laymen and even policy wonks to clearly understand – but in the case of Oregon state government IT functions the line of responsibility is clear with state Chief Information Officer (CIO) Terrence Woods reporting directly into Gov. Tina Koteck as a member of her cabinet.

Unfortunately, that kind of direct reporting arrangement between state leadership and the state CIO is still relatively rare, with only a dozen or so instances around the country, according to National Association of State Chief Information Officers Director Doug Robinson.

Woods said in an interview with MeriTalk that the direct reporting line to the governor has been critical to creating a successful IT environment in Oregon – echoing a stance that every state CIO with cabinet status has told me over the years.

After nearly two decades in Oregon state government with IT leadership positions at the revenue department, human services, and enterprise information services (EIS), he took over for state CIO Alex Pettit on an interim basis, and then was selected to the permanent position in 2018 by then-Gov. Kate Brown.

To say modernization has been key to Oregon’s IT turnaround is an understatement. Inheriting numerous state government computer systems using green screen dinosaur-age monitors, Woods faced a huge challenge.

Government technology is key to providing so much in the way of modern citizen services and enterprise business activity from the motor vehicle registry, health and welfare, and taxes, along with budgeting, payroll and other internal business services.

Without proper technology none of this would be possible, and with antiquated technology the results themselves are inadequate.

However, Woods understands the key to modernization.

“I’m always going to say this, and I’ll keep beating this drum until one day we get it figured out. Change is really, really hard in general,” he said.

“And I would say change is even harder in state government largely because you have so many agencies, driven by their missions – in our case 72 boards, commissions, agencies, each with a different mission, and most of them service driven,” he explained.

As a result, modernization of key legacy applications running in any of these 72 entities, their business rules, regulations, reporting requirements and so on, presents an enormous change management challenge.

To address this challenge, Woods adopted what I call a Sir Francis Bacon-like strategy – “if the mountain won’t come to you, you must go to the mountain.”

Even with his cabinet-level status with other agencies, presenting change management proposals with persuasion and diplomacy – or even less tactful overtures, recalcitrant agencies might not be amenable to modernizing legacy systems that are ancient but still functioning.

That’s where the Governor’s Action Plan for IT was the catalyst. EIS was charged with organizing its Assistant State Chief Information Officers (ASCIO) program to develop a consistent, coordinated, and collaborative multi-year modernization strategies for each of the six program policy verticals – Administrative and Business Services, Education, Health, Natural Resources, Public Safety, and Transportation and Economic Development.

The development of individual agency modernization action plans was foundational to this work, as was the establishment of common definitions, templates, assessment tools, and repeatable processes, including development of business-driven agency IT Strategic plans.

Beyond these specific deliverables, however, is the secret sauce. ASCIOs are also tasked with building trusted relationships with their agency partners and promoting the values embedded within the modernization vision for Oregon – encompassing people, processes, and technology –and serving as a guide to agencies as they embark upon their journeys towards digital transformation.

It’s those kinds of efforts that are forming the basis to establishing Oregon’s digital/citizen service priorities for the year ahead, and paving the way for an increase in the adoption of digital services statewide.

Read More About
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.