Data is key for Indiana CIO Dewand Neely. His team is focused on helping the state government incorporate data into its decision-making. From helping to establish a metrics-driven agency to focusing on citizen feedback to determine projects, Neely believes data can help the government make better decisions across the board.

Dewand Neely serves as CIO for the state of Indiana. (Photo: Indiana)

In an interview with 21st Century State & Local, Neely discussed his role in Indiana as well as his advice for other CIOs across the country.

21st Century State & Local: Could you tell our readers a little bit about your team?

Dewand Neely: My office is the infrastructure provider for the entire executive branch in Indiana, which equates to roughly 28,000 end users. We run lean, we have 326 full-time employees and 50-60 contractors to take care of the workload.

21C: As CIO, how do you spend your time?

DN: I spend most of my time meeting with agency heads and their CIOs. I try to tout my role as being more than just the “tech guy.” I have separate meetings with other CIOs that are very tech focused, but I also meet with agency heads to talk about how my team can play more of a business role. Since there is no straight line of authority from my office to the agency’s IT teams, most of the meetings are about getting support and buy-in.

21C: What projects are coming up for your office?

DN: Since we are the infrastructure provider for the executive branch, we are tasked with a lot of security and cyber duties. This year, we want to help agencies and their business side understand the role they play in cybersecurity. Most agencies view cybersecurity as something they don’t have to worry about. We are making a concerted effort to help them understand that there are things they do that help contribute to the security of Indiana, including policies and business decisions. We are giving agencies assessment tools and resources to help them understand.

We are also realigning our limited resources to be positioned to help key agencies that have modernization projects on the horizon. Our Department of Revenue and Bureau of Motor Vehicles are both looking to modernize systems and technology used throughout the departments. We want to make sure we have the resources available to ensure success, and look at future tech to make sure we put in the proper platforms. We want something that’s built for the future. These modernization opportunities don’t come around every year, you get a chance maybe every 20 years. We want to do this in a very innovative way–we want this to be a model for others to follow.

21C: What projects or accomplishments are you proud of?

DN: There was a joint effort with our office and our Department of Revenue, Workforce Development, and the Secretary of State to create a one-stop business registration portal. It allowed citizens to do business faster and start businesses more quickly. It also laid the foundation for the concept of a one-stop shop. Citizens don’t necessarily need to know what each agency does, they just come in with the task they need to accomplish. We take care of the individual tasks on the back end. That way citizens don’t get sent around to different agencies.

We were also able to codify a new agency this year. We created a new agency called we call our Management and Performance Hub (MPH). MPH was something we started out of IT to look at using data to make better decisions across the state and bringing together data sets across agencies. MPH is charged with helping other agencies to consider the importance of data sharing as they design their programs and initiatives. It’s a metric- and data-driven agency.

21C: Cybersecurity is a top concern for state CIOs. How do you work with state and local governments during a cybersecurity incident?

DN: It’s an organic process and I like to think we work pretty well together. While there’s nothing formally laid out, we are working on developing a more detailed plan. We recently kicked off a cybersecurity council. Our governor tasked the council with bringing the different sectors together to talk about how can we work better together, share more data, and improve cybersecurity in the state. There’s a curve in cybersecurity–some are doing it well and some not so much. This council will bring everyone together and get a baseline established. We are developing a disruption plan to determine how to respond and provide assistance during a security incident. Hopefully, a proposal will be presented within the next year.

21C: Your team likes to use data to tackle not traditionally tech-focused social problems facing the state of Indiana, such as criminal recidivism and opioid addiction. Can you walk us through how data can combat these issues?

DN: Both criminal recidivism and opioid addiction are really the products of what we did early with the MPH, before it was an official agency. Typically a serious issue facing the state is assigned to one agency that you think it falls underneath and the agency is given money for programs and outreach. But what we found was that it takes more than one agency to solve the complex problems. We need to bring together different folks and new data to see if we can move the needle on these issues. Usually states struggle with issues for many years before deciding to tackle it in a new way. What we saw from that early success was to think broader in how we can tackle these really hard issues.

21C: What is the biggest tech challenge facing state governments today?

DN: The biggest challenge is outdated policies, procedures, rules, and statutes that were put in place many years ago. I’m sure they were done with a specific reason in mind, but when you fast forward to the tech that’s available now and consider how fast you need to deploy new tech–you can’t keep up. Our technology moves faster than our policies and regulations allow. By the time you get new tech into government, tech has moved forward. We need to get faster things in to innovate and keep up with citizen demand.

21C: Any advice for other state or city CIOs?

DN: I think that what we’ve liked here in Indiana that’s a great way to foster innovation in state government is getting out and interacting with citizens in meaningful ways. For instance, hackathons–we’ve really embraced them. It’s important to ask citizens “how would you do this differently?” and “what really matters to you?” And the governments need to use that data to create new products and innovations. That way we aren’t assuming what citizens want and we ensure that the new product is something they want and will use.

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Kate Polit
Kate Polit
Kate Polit is MeriTalk SLG's Assistant Copy & Production Editor, covering Cybersecurity, Education, Homeland Security, Veterans Affairs