When I think of Wyoming, I think of open prairies and sprawling mountain ranges with very few people in between. Agility, modernization, and IT innovation are rarely ever included in that mental image. But despite the farm and nature stereotypes, today Wyoming is making a name for itself in the IT modernization game by tackling the unique IT challenges it faces and turning them into success stories.
The main innovation initiative in Wyoming’s Department of Enterprise Technology Services is to make their new technology cloud based. The Department’s push out of their datacenter and into the cloud has seen them innovating broadband infrastructure for the state as well as their partners. For example, the Department handles the connectivity for all the schools in every district in the state, as well as all of the state offices. “We are really posturing ourselves so that we’ll be well positioned for cloud deployment,” Waters said.
However, the journey to the cloud and overall modernization has not come without challenges. Particularly, the Department is having issues finding staff and expertise in some of their smaller communities. Overall, Wyoming is home to only 300 IT employees. But the department is working hard to highlight the state’s strengths in order to recruit more talent and improve operations.
Waters explained that the Department targets “individuals that got out of college, did the startup thing, have been working 80 hour weeks and now might have a baby and want a different lifestyle.” According to Waters, the environment that Wyoming fosters is great for raising kids so the Department uses that to their advantage in their recruitment tactics.
Additionally, the Department “is engaging big companies to think of Wyoming as a statewide incubator for innovation,” Waters said. Wyoming has extremely low cost energy so companies can buy energy in the state cheaply. This means the state is a prime environment for datacenters, which foster the growth of broadband. This has led to companies, including Microsoft and the National Center for Atmospheric Research, investing in datacenters and supercomputer centers in Wyoming.
The Department is also taking advantage of Wyoming’s institutional agility. Waters explained, “it is so much easier to roll out a solution in a state where I can walk down the street and I am in the legislative chamber. If we have obstructions of statutes that are problematic for innovation, we can talk directly to the legislators.” Startups and corporate structures are drawn to this agility, allowing innovation to thrive in Wyoming.
Fostering innovation also means investing in employees and allowing them to take productive risks. “If our employees have an interest in learning networking, if they have an interest in learning cybersecurity, we will invest in the training to get them there,” Waters said. Through this environment, Waters asks his employees to be inventive because the governor has empowered the Department to build an innovative, dynamic culture, with all the tools to succeed. Waters identified it as his Department’s duty to build upon these tools and put forth innovation without fear of failure.
Looking forward, Waters aims to further develop the innovative culture in the state’s agency. The culture makes it more exciting, brings in the talent the state needs, and promotes modernization through collaboration, allowing for more success. But at the end of the day “We don’t measure ourselves for success against other states,” Waters said. “We simply try to measure ourselves against the very best at solving any given problem and keep moving forward.”