In late June, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Carlos Ramos to be secretary of the California Technology Agency. Ramos most recently worked as an IT consultant, but brings more than 25 years of experience in California government to the administration. He has worked at the departments of Finance and Social Services, the Stephen P. Teale Data Center, the Health and Human Services Agency and the Office of Systems Integration.
Ramos spoke with StateTech Managing Editor Amy Schurr about the position and his goals for CTA.
STATETECH: Why did you take the job?
RAMOS: Gov. Brown has a pragmatic and practical approach to make government more functional in California. He wants to fix whatever is broken, make it more effective and make government more responsive to the citizenry, and I wanted to be part of that.
Second, I like the opportunity to make an impact on a statewide level and with local government — and maybe even the private sector — in the way that the public sector leverages and uses technology to serve its citizens.
Third, for me personally, I thought I could make a difference given my background and my experience. I have a good sense of the state's technology landscape. I know many of the departments and what they do. I know many of the leaders and practitioners within the state, and I have worked with a lot of the technology companies that provide service to California or partner with state agencies to deliver technology services and systems.
STATETECH: Now that you've been on the job for a little while, what is your plan of attack?
RAMOS: One of the great lessons that I learned when I was outside state government is that it is vitally important for the private-sector companies to have a solid understanding of their customers and clients — to understand their needs, their objectives, their relative strengths and weaknesses, and how these companies can come in and help support their client and serve their needs. I am taking that same sort of approach.
The first several weeks of my tenure, I've spent time trying to understand the technology agency's constituents — the different state departments and cabinet members, their technology needs and objectives, and deficiencies or gaps.
The other part is understanding our vendor partners and our business partners, and spending some time getting familiar with the technology agency's own staff resources and talent pool. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the folks here? Where do we have opportunities to improve, and where do we have valuable resources that we can leverage?
Finally, there's our most important client or customer: the taxpayers. What are their needs, and what do they expect out of this agency? And there are other stakeholders too, such as the governor and policymakers and, at times, our federal constituents.
STATETECH: What are some of the biggest strengths of the agency?
RAMOS: We have a very talented pool of staff. They are very dedicated and committed to leveraging value for the taxpayer. Second, because of our position as both a service provider and a control agency, we have a cross-cutting view of what goes on in technology across the state. That gives us a unique insight that we can really leverage.
For example, we have the California Highway Patrol, the Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, and the California State Parks. We were able to spot that all three of those agencies were in need of a computer-aided dispatch system, and we were able to get them to collaborate to build a common system to share the cost and expertise. The ability to communicate and collaborate is much enhanced if you have these folks on a common dispatch platform.
Finally, we have a very good communication channel to the different vendors that work with the state, to address critical issues as they come up and mitigate risks.
STATETECH: What areas have you identified that could use improvement?
RAMOS: Because of the budget situation, folks are wearing multiple hats — sometimes doing two and three jobs — and that is challenging. You need the resources to meet the demands of so many different customers. One opportunity for improvement is to help folks focus on just one job. As we get opportunities to begin filling vacancies, that will help us quite a bit.
The other thing that has been a bit of a challenge is that our agency has two different sides to its personality — we are a service provider and, at the same time, a control agency. Because people are wearing multiple hats, I think they have some challenges distinguishing their role. If you're a customer of a service organization, you want to be treated as a customer and not have a control agency telling you what you have to do.
We're doing a bit of organizational realignment so that it's very clear which side of our house is a service organization — focused on customer service, delivering services, reducing cost and creating efficiency there — and which side is the control and oversight, policy- making function of our agency.
STATETECH: What goals do you have for state IT?
RAMOS: I want to reduce the risk of failure and make sure that if we take on a technology initiative, it is successful. We want to foster collaboration among the different public-sector agencies so that we leverage better value and make government more efficient and effective.
We want to secure and protect the technology and information assets that the state already has. We gather lots of sensitive critical information in the course of delivering services. We need to protect, not just information that pertains to individuals, but actually protect the critical infrastructure pieces of government. I want to make sure that we use technology to make government more accessible to the citizenry and more efficient in the way that it operates.
And the final goal that I have is to make sure that the state workforce that supports technology is equipped to do the job right — that they are trained, are skilled and have the support they need to actually run and manage these systems and successfully deliver the IT projects and initiatives that we take on.
STATETECH: Are there any technologies that you have identified as being particularly helpful?
RAMOS: We have a couple of initiatives under way to use cloud computing to foster collaboration and leverage better value. Along with cloud computing, virtualization is another part. A few other areas that we are looking at are really enhancing and moving our networking and telecommunications capacity to the next generation; then maybe also looking at social media and collaboration technologies to make government more accessible.
Read the second part of the StateTech interview with Carlos Ramos here.
Nearly 45% Reduction in state-owned data center square footage over the past two years
More than 130 State agency CIOs
Almost 200,000 Number of state e-mail boxes
More than 65 Number of current IT projects with more than $5.1 billion in value
More than 8,000 Number of statewide IT employees
1,422 Number of IT employees trained in California's Project Management Methodology
23 Number of major IT projects completed in Fiscal Year 2010–2011
7,000 Number of air miles of state-owned microwave paths