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The Offensive Line of Delaware Gov: IT as a Game-Changer

Delaware IT employees have been working overtime to support agencies’ missions within the state. So far, their efforts have been fruitful, preventing the Labor Department’s unemployment benefits website from crashing and adding teleconferencing functionality to agencies throughout the state.

Chief Information Officer James Collins gathers the Delaware Technology and Information Department (DTI) for weekly virtual town halls to discuss the crisis response mode the team finds itself in. During these meetings, Collins almost sounds like a football coach, championing his team’s work and preaching its importance.

“In my mind, you’re right on par with those first responders, with medical providers,” Collins said as a message to his team.

Many media stories have highlighted heartwarming stories of first responders, health care providers, community heroes and government leaders – rightfully so, Collins said.

But there’s a reason why Delaware residents can stay at home and hear Gov. John Carney’s regular updates. It’s the same reason why people can receive telehealth services and access public education virtually.

Like offensive lines create space for running backs to sprint into record books and quarterbacks to etch their name onto MVP trophies, government technology departments often lead agencies to their goals – even if many of their efforts go overlooked. And during the coronavirus, government technology is the reason vital, life-saving services are delivered.

“If somebody who works in a hospital can’t get child care for their kids, then they can’t leave and go provide critical health care,” Collins said.

To respond to that scenario, DTI plotted out the location of emergency child care centers online using geographic information systems, an integrated mapping technology. The team also developed an online reimbursement solution for employees.

In the past, the connection between service and technology wasn’t always clear. Those were two separate jobs in government, in many minds.

“From the policy-makers and decision-makers perspective, as well as my own team’s perspective, I think there was a disconnect between the work that we do and the services that get delivered to the people,” Collins said.

Collins worked to erase much of that mentality years ago, by inviting agency leaders to speak to DTI. In that way, other agencies knew who to call when they needed to, and DTI in the meantime could work on proactive projects designed to further agency missions.

But now during the coronavirus pandemic, as Delaware’s Education Department is pummeled with ransomware attacks and the Labor Department is deluged with unemployment claims, the centrality of technology is even more unmistakable. For the Education Department, DTI installed failsafes on the backend to keep hold of the state’s information, and for the Labor Department, DTI added more processing power, along with monitoring and automated status updates to better deal with the workload and prevent system outages.

At the weekly virtual town halls his team now attends, Collins wants his team to know about the many agency employees who send him emails thanking IT for enabling their services in the social distancing era. A recent “THANK YOU” message, in all caps, from the state’s payroll office was in reciprocation for DTI’s efforts ensuring that state employees would still be paid.

Those messages, and the missions behind them, are the motivation for government technologists.

“Those aren’t my accolades. Those accolades belong to our team,” Collins said.

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