Q. Where did you grow up?
A. I grew up in Albuquerque. My parents went to school in Albuquerque and met at the University of New Mexico. We moved to Arizona when I was in middle school. We first lived in Casa Grande, and my Dad was in real estate development. We then moved to Phoenix my freshman year and I went to Apollo High School.
What did you study in college?
I went to college at the University of Colorado Boulder and ASU. I studied a lot of things because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. When I first arrived in Boulder, I had two classes: math and scuba diving. And, my Dad said it costs the same if you have two hours or twenty-two hours, so you better get some more classes. I originally wanted to be pre-med, but I didn’t really enjoy my initial science courses. My Dad was a civil engineer so I studied civil engineering for a while but I didn’t think I wanted to do that as a career. I ended up as a business major because I thought I could use the skills anywhere, but I was a second semester Junior and it was going to take a year to get into the school of business to take classes so I finished up my degree at ASU.
How did you get started in IT?
I got my first job working for Phoenix Newspapers in its IT department. The company wanted someone who understood the business functions and they were willing to train me in IT. I started out as a COBOL developer and then became a business analyst. I know, a COBOL programmer!
You were named one of the Outstanding CIOs by the Phoenix Business Journal. What an honor! What do you attribute your success to?
I have an outstanding team, which always helps! I think my most important role as a CIO is to align the technology initiatives with the business priorities. This ensures that the IT team is focused on those priorities and understands how our efforts support the mission. IT governance is also important – including making sure that the business understands and supports the IT initiatives.
You have been the DHS CIO since 2008. What are some lessons you have learned working in public sector IT?
Patience, persistence and stamina are all important to making positive change. I can give you an example – the IT reclassification project. It took about three years to work on it and implement it. Someone has a good idea and it just takes time to get it to fruition. But, if you stay on it you will accomplish it. Now, the new classifications are helping me because a part of the implementation was to set salary ranges with market data. I have never worked with better people, but sometimes the processes impede our progress.
Technology is a dynamic field. What still gets you excited?
I love to re-engineer processes and solve business problems, which often leads to utilizing technology. What a concept! I think that continuous quality improvement and Lean tools have been in the IT toolbox for a long time. It doesn’t always get called Lean or CQI, but it is a normal thought process for me. We don’t want to automate a bad process. And I am happy to see them being used more broadly in state government.
What about the cloud? Is that exciting to you? Everyone talks about the cloud.
I think the cloud has been around for a long time – it is a new name for an old thing. We used to share time on mainframes in the day. So it’s not a new concept for me. I do think that it is finally becoming mature enough to be useable. There were a lot of security concerns that have been rectified now. I still think that there are some issues to work through like creating a strategy to bring our data back from the cloud. We will start putting our toe in the water and utilize cloud services where it makes sense. Some of the required infrastructure activities such as patching systems doesn’t add value to our mission so it may make more sense to outsource it. So, the cloud offers opportunities but it is a process to get there.
What are the largest technology challenges facing ADHS over the next year? Five years?
One of our largest technology challenges has been in implementing electronic interoperability with our partners. Our largest initiatives have been in support of Meaningful Use where medical providers and hospitals are required to submit immunization, lab reporting, and syndromic surveillance data to public health in order to receive incentives from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid. These electronic data exchanges benefit us because they eliminate manual efforts, improve accuracy and allow data to be received on a more timely basis. But the devil is in the details and the standards aren’t always “standard” when you start merging the data. It is a big effort for us. We have connected close to 1,500 providers and the having to touch each one is time consuming. We have been talking about interfacing with Arizona Health-e Connection’s Health Information Exchange (The Network) to help reduce time and streamline the operations. Interfacing with The Network would allow us to have access to data from multiple providers through one connection.
I think this is also our five-year challenge. Another big initiative of ours is the automation of our paper processes, especially those that are outward facing.
You have been involved in process improvement with the state’s IT oversight process. How did that go?
Yes, I recently participated in a three-day Kaizen where we designed a new future state for the Project Investment Justification (PIJ) process. A PIJ is required for all IT projects that cost $25K or more. I think we were able to transform the process and make some big improvements. One of the major gains was altering the oversight management role to be more consultative earlier in the process versus the current role of checking and inspecting the PIJ at the end of the process.
Do you have any favorite expressions or words to live by?
I probably overuse the phrase, “low hanging fruit,” but think that there are a lot of opportunities to have easy wins that should be maximized.
Do you have any pets or pastimes?
Yes, I have two dogs – Spike and Baxter. I am probably too attached to them! The funniest thing about Baxter is that we have an application at ADHS that is named Baxter, so I always have to remember that it’s not my dog! Spike is a one hundred pound Goldendoodle and Baxter is a Poodle Maltese that looks just like Spike, but a miniature 20 pound version. In my free time, I like to spend time outdoors and enjoy hiking and skiing. I also enjoy cooking when I have time. I don’t find it that fun when I have to do it because I need to eat but enjoy it when entertaining. I also like reading and traveling. My favorite places are San Diego and Flagstaff in the summer. I wish that I could do more travel. My next big trip is going to be to Italy.
What made you decide to enter public service?
I used to work as a consultant for the Women, Infant, and Children program at ADHS and enjoyed the people and the mission of helping others. There was an opening for an Application Manager and I thought it would be a fun job because there was a lot of variety of applications given the diversity of the department’s programs.
What would you tell someone interested in entering public service?
I would say that culture in state service is more welcoming. People are genuinely nice and supporting a common mission. One challenge that we are going to be facing is the Millennial generation. We just hired a young man and after less than a year he is leaving for a new opportunity outside of the country. Coming to work someplace for thirty years does not enter anyone’s mind anymore. We try to make work challenging and exciting to attract people, but the reality is that people are going to want to move around a lot more in the future. The government is going to have to figure out how to take advantage of the time we have these young people.