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Vermont CIO Is All About Streamlining, Consolidating

This Q&A is part of a new GovLoop series called “CIO Conversations.” Through 2019, we’ll feature conversational interviews twice monthly with current and former federal, state and local chief information officers (CIOs) to get to 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.

In 2019, Vermont managed to optimize its Medicaid provider enrollment process by almost 90%.

“It was on time and on budget, which are all things that we love,” said John Quinn, Vermont’s CIO and Secretary of Digital Services, while talking about the year in review at the National Association of State CIOs’ (NASCIO) 50th anniversary earlier in 2019.

Quinn sat down with Emily Jarvis, Senior Online and Events Editor at GovLoop, to talk further about the agency’s workforce successes in 2019, as well as priorities in application consolidation and proactively considering digital citizen engagement for 2020 and beyond.

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

What are some projects that you worked on and are proud of this year?

We redid our Medicaid provider management system. We were at a point in Vermont where providers couldn’t get enrolled. It was taking us over 120 days to be able to enroll a provider to offer services. So we put together a project to modernize and streamline that process, and we have it down to 15 days. We went from 120 days of enrolling someone, down to 15. That was a major accomplishment for Human Services and the Agency of Digital Services.  

That’s incredible. How long did it take for this update to start and launch?

 I don’t remember the exact timeline. It was a couple of months. But it was very fast, and it was on time and on budget, which are all things that we love.

Talk to me a little bit about your workforce — you have a pretty large workforce. Are you federated in Vermont, or are you consolidated?

We have about 380 IT employees, and we are a fully consolidated state.

There’s one IT provider for the state — for the executive branch of state government — and that’s the Agency of Digital Services.

Gov. Phil Scott was very forward-thinking when he created the agency and could see not only the benefits from potential cost, but organizationally around security and being able to provide a consistent, unified approach to how we make sure all agencies are up to a certain [security] standard.

In the old model, each agency had its own IT guy, and its guy or girl may be really good at desktop support or server support but may put security on the side and just do the bare minimum.

What we found when we created the agency was there is a wide, wide number of agencies that just wasn’t doing security at all — you know, bare minimum. And we’ve raised those ships up to the same level as everyone else. We’re focused on defense and depth now and really building out our enterprise cybersecurity model. 

You said you have 300 or so IT folks. What does your staff look like? Are you having a lot of retirements coming up that you’re worried about, or do you feel your staff is a bit younger?

In Vermont, we have an extremely low unemployment rate, so it’s been really challenging to find people. We have a great dedicated staff. Very experienced. But we do have an aged workforce, and it has been challenging to find new people. So one of the things that Governor Scott took on as an initiative was the security operation center (SOC) with Norwich University, the private military college that focuses on providing leaders for the next generation. And through that program, we’ve been able to not only give the students real-world experience by letting them work in the operations center, but it’s also helped us create an internship program with them and bring in some of the newly graduated people directly into our agency to build even more experience [for them], and to build the cybersecurity workforce gap that we have.

And are you seeing a lot of those interns convert to full-time employees?

We are. It’s been very successful. And, you know, I’m excited about the program. Some of our best and brightest are newly graduated Norwich people.

What are some big things that you have on the dock going into 2020? 

We’re going to be very focused on consolidation. We have over 1,400 applications in our environment. We have about 8,700 employees. That factors out to be about 1 application for every 6.5 people — way too many.

With the creation of Digital Services in 2017, we started exploring what it is that we actually have. Vermont didn’t know how many applications they had. They didn’t know how much they were spending on IT. They didn’t know how many IT resources they had. We’ve been able to figure out those numbers and start to look at platforms and capabilities and put them into buckets.

Now, we’re going be focused on things like Salesforce, our 200 case management systems, consolidating those, and building those into a common platform where we can have a sustainable path going forward.

When you talk about digital services, optimization and things like that, are you more focused internally on cleaning out those legacy applications, or are you also focused on some of the front-end applications for constituents? 

I think they’re linked together. We’re looking at modernizing a number of different things, including the DMV app, for example. On the Health and Human Services side, we’re looking at eligibility getting off of the mainframe for those services. So, I think you can do both. You have to think about the citizen, what’s going on with the citizen, how they want to communicate with government and how that changes — not looking at right now, but looking out five years and saying, ‘How will the customer want to engage with government?’ And trying to build that in the process now, whether it’s with chatbots, [artificial intelligence] AI or blockchain identity.

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