Formerly Director of the California Department of Technology and State Chief Information Officer
What has surprised you most about your recent experiences leading organizational change?
A: What has surprised me most is the willingness and the openness of folks to accept and embrace change. When I came into office at California Technology Agency, the State was and still is in a difficult fiscal situation. We were dealing with a multi billion dollar deficit which had some very real impact on the level of service government is able to provide to its constituents. Nevertheless, the demand for services from government really had not diminished. In fact, in some cases, the bad economy has made things even worse. So there was a clear recognition that we had to do things differently if we, as a government, were going to continue to thrive and to provide service to citizens. A lot of change had already been happening in the way we approached technology from the previous year. So I would have thought that the State IT community would have been pretty worn out. I was surprised to find out that folks really were open to change. They just wanted it to make sense to them; they wanted to know why we're doing things, where we're going, and how we're going to get there.
Can you give us an example of where that might have happened and how you clarified to others what was needed?
A: An example was in the way that we are moving folks towards a new service platform for constituents. One of the things that we pushed when we came into office was to make sure that government was better able to connect with its citizens in a way that didn’t drive up costs for government and also makes government service a little more convenient to the consumers. For example, we started to push departments to move their services and transactions online. We noticed that the majority of folks have access to the internet via their mobile device and that folks use those mobile devices in all aspects of their lives whether it’s mobile telephones, mobile cell phones, or tablet devices. So to connect with a set of constituents that we were by and large currently ignoring, we had to move to a mobile government.
How does being a technology leader differ from being a program or policy site leader?
A: One, our industry is constantly changing at a very fast pace. So if you're a technology leader, you have to keep an eye out and be quite familiar with the changes that are going on as the industry evolves. Many times it means a different way of doing business or a different model for how you go about building and applying technology. Plus you need folks that oftentimes are a lot more knowledgeable about technology than you are. The other way that being a leader in technology is different from other program areas is if you're running a program area, for example law enforcement area, your focus is primarily law enforcement. If you're in the technology space serving law enforcement, you not only have to know technology, you also have to know what the issues are in law enforcement. Those are significant differences.
What advice would you give those who are somewhat new to leadership in State service?
A: The best advice that I could give to someone new to State service is don’t be afraid. Too many folks are afraid to lead because of fear of failure. So don't be afraid of failure. Many times we learn more from our failures than from our successes.
This interview with Carlos Ramos was conducted on December 4, 2012 and has been edited and condensed.