Colorado CIO Locates Customer Delight

This Q&A is part of a new GovLoop series called “CIO Conversations.” Through 2019 we’ll feature conversational interviews twice a month with current and former federal, state and local chief information officers to get know the people behind the titles. You’ll learn about the perks and challenges of their job, how they ended up in their current position, what’s top of mind for them, how they’ve rebounded from setbacks and more.

Where can you find customer delight?

In the gap between a set expectation and the exceeding of it, said Colorado Chief Information Officer (CIO) Theresa Szczurek at NASCIO’s 50th anniversary this year.

Szczurek’s one-year anniversary as Colorado CIO is nearing, and she had some success stories to share with Emily Jarvis, GovLoop’s Senior Online and Events Editor.

Below, she spoke about the state’s IT playbook for 2020, success in Agile methods in 2019, customer delight priorities and workforce plans for the future.

The interview below has been lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

GovLoop: Tell me about some of the exciting projects or programs you worked on in 2019. 

Courtesy of Colorado Office of Information Technology

Our mission is to enhance the lives of all Coloradans, and our vision is to be one of the best public service technology organizations — innovating today for tomorrow. So to that end, we are focused on a couple of major areas.

One is this whole area of working with our customers, which are the 17 consolidated agencies in Colorado and helping them modernize their applications.

Now, in addition to the agencies and helping them modernize their applications, we also work on keeping all the systems operational — what I call “KSO,” keep the systems operational. And so that’s actually a fair amount of our work, in terms of resolving service technicalities and keeping the network operational securely. Cybersecurity is another whole area. And then, keeping the technology transforming. So those would be the four main areas.

I have a case study here, which I can leave with you. It was a collaboration of the Department of Corrections, one of our customers, working with the Office of Information Technology on a parole board calendar module. It was a system where they were having a lot of pain because there were a lot of logistics involved in having inmates going on parole and then scheduling their hearings.

And so what we actually did was use an Agile methodology, which is one of the things Gov. Polis, in taking office in January, said he’d really like to move the state into. We were able to utilize an Agile scrum methodology, and we had a self-directed project team that worked together. And we delivered what the customer wanted five weeks earlier than the estimated completion date.

Some of the things that worked here were: ongoing customer communication between the Office of Information Technology and the Department of Corrections — really having them own the project and have really good testing; a cross-functional team, [in which] we were working with both sides with twice-weekly stand-up meetings. We did these short sprints of efforts and worked with the Agile methodology to allocate our resources.

This was the kind of feedback from the State Board of Parole, Andrea Clark: “This product is amazing. It makes my life ridiculously better. I estimate it cuts my time on scheduling by 30%.” So, happy customers. And that’s one of the things that we are working at. Our wildly important passionate purpose is customer delight.

Our WIPP, or wildly important passionate purpose, of customer delight, is where we want to set certain expectations and exceed them. In that gap is where you get customer delight.

Your WIPP and other priorities are outlined in the Office of Information Technology’s (OIT’s) annual playbook. How did you go about creating this playbook for 2020?

We got direction from the governor in terms of what he was interested in us working towards. He says to be bold, be consistent, reduce unforced errors [and] be joyous.

He is especially interested in fostering an economy that’s fair for everyone, moving to renewable energy resources to protect the environment, saving people money on health care and improving education in the state.

Then he handed me, personally, a few wildly important goals, which are what we’re focused on in addition to running the rest of the state. One is to increase organizational efficiency, transparency and customer satisfaction. Another is to ensure a secure Colorado by evaluating and improving our cybersecurity practices. And then the third is to expand virtual access anywhere, anytime.

What we’ve done is we’ve created some strategic initiatives under these plans. And that’s what we’re working to achieve.

You’ve got this beautifully outlined plan all set for 2020. What is your timeline like? When do you start working on these plans? 

Our fiscal year starts July 1, so this is the strategic plan for July 1 through June 30.

In February of 2020 — knowing that by June of 2020, we will need to be doing a performance plan on how well we did and setting up — we will not only get direction from the governor, but we will also go out to our customers and employees to ask for their strategic input.

This past February, we engaged with frontline employees in many of our different locations. We got 100 different inputs. And some of them were on digital transformation, which has to do with one of our wildly important goals. Another had to do with cybersecurity, and another had to do with organizational efficiency. These were the things that our employees were telling us about, which happened to be very consistent.

They were saying in digital transformation, let’s look at chatbots and artificial intelligence. Well lo and behold, we are doing some AI-based chatbots. We have a pilot and we have another proof of concept going on in our service desk on those.

So, you know, these people are on the frontline. They’re giving us inputs. We’re getting them from the customer, we’re getting it from the governor. We consolidate it, along with what we’re getting from the legislature, in terms of the budget because there’s a lot a things we want to do but we have to have money to do it.

There are changes happening in the workforce that create a challenge for hiring and retaining employees, such as swaths of people retiring from the government workforce. How is your workforce faring?

Colorado was ranked the number one economy just recently [by U.S. News & World Report], and so in line with that, we have a very low unemployment rate. [We] have difficulty attracting people because we have so many other IT companies. We’re trying to bring more IT workers from other states, but we’re also working to communicate the values of doing a tour of government service even from the private sector.

Now, I came from the private sector. I was a serial technology entrepreneur and a management consultant. And it’s like, why am I here? Well, it’s so meaningful. I can give back. I can impact the lives of 5.8 million Coloradans. I can work with a great group of people.  And so, what we’re trying to do is set up an understanding of what we offer.

We are going to be announcing within the next week another initiative with regards to this. It’s going to bring in more people to complement our workforce.

But the other thing we’re doing is training our existing workforce to allow them to be able to work on some of the other initiatives. We do have a veteran’s internship program, which has brought people into work on cybersecurity. We have a student internship program, and that has brought in some people. But I think there’s more that we can do there.

But this is also why we look to vendors. We need a great relationship [with them]. Sometimes they bring in expertise; they bring in systems that have already been developed. And so we need to work together.

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