Innovation in the Last Frontier

While Alaska is typically known for its sprawling lands, scenic views, and never ending days, it is also becoming better known for its technical landscape. In order to learn more about how Alaska is innovating their IT practices, GovLoop’s Emily Jarvis sat down with Jim Steele, Chief Information Officer for the state of Alaska, for this week’s State and Local Spotlight.

Up until now, Alaska’s IT infrastructure has largely been decentralized with many agencies operating as individual entities. Going into 2017, Steel is focused on structuring the state’s IT in a way that has all IT operations reporting into a centralized function. In line with the proposed consolidation efforts, Steele is also focusing on shared services going into the new year. Consolidating procurement practices will allow Alaska to further their overall IT centralization plan.

An integral part of IT consolidation in Alaska is ensuring the workforce is all on the same page. While Alaska is one of the largest states in landmass, they have a relatively small population. Steele and his team have used this unique situation to their advantage in shaping Alaska’s IT workforce. The overall expectation that Steele has of his workforce is that they are not going to be lifelong IT public servants—and that’s okay with him. Looking forward, “we are really going to focus on providing a good training environment for new hires so that they can get the experience that they can use to go off in 6 to 8 years and move onto something else,” Steele explained.

Additionally, Alaska is focusing on empowering their mid-tier IT management team. “Oftentimes the government agencies have so many controls in place that they innocently strip out the creativity and the empowerment you really need to give to your mid-tier management,” Steele said. “So I think focusing on developing these individuals, not only for the jobs that they’re in, but for the jobs they’ll have tomorrow is something we are proud of.”

Part of the training of the new workforce will include an emphasis on digital services. Steele emphasized, “We are pushing for digital services like you find at the DMV across agencies. For example, Fish and Game is pursuing an aggressive mobile strategy to allow hunters to record their harvests via GPS wherever they may be located.” They are focusing on adopting digital services in different areas at a pace that is appropriate for each organization.

One way Steele and his team are measuring the success of new trainings and digital services is through analytics. “There are analytics pockets of excellence but we are still finding where everything comes together,” Steele explained. He is focused on the benefits of consolidating resources in order to identify what future opportunities for IT in Alaska look like.

Steele concluded, “longstanding control issues have been preventing us from leveraging technology in a unified way. I think agencies are doing a great job on their own but I think we can collectively gain more by pulling together, working closer together, and promoting this cultural shift throughout the state.”

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