In the first part of our Q&A with Carlos Ramos, secretary of the California Technology Agency, he explained why he took the job as secretary and how he planned to affect change in the state.
In this continuation of our Q&A with Ramos, he explains further about his background in state IT, his experiences in the private sector, and how he believes the two can work together to build a stronger, more educated workforce.
STATETECH: Tell me about your background in state IT.
RAMOS: My first foray into technology came when I was working in the Department of Finance as a budget analyst. I played an oversight role that exposed me to how technology projects are funded and the return on investment they deliver.
That led me to go work on a project to deliver a case management system for Child Protective Services — the folks who respond to reports of child abuse and neglect. I was involved in rolling out the first statewide system to the counties.
The first call that one county took once the new system was up and running really demonstrated its value. The caseworker was able to find the history on this family that they never would have found had it not been for the statewide system. The family had moved from county to county and had some pretty severe incidents; a child had died in their custody and they had some kids removed. In the absence of that information, the agency would have responded and reacted very differently. To me that shows the power of a good technology solution in better serving the citizenry.
Since then I have had a number of leadership posts. I have been director of the state’s data center, I have run an office that handles a multi-billion-dollar portfolio of technology projects for the state, and I was a CIO at one of the departments. Being in the role of using technology to better serve the program, customers or clients eventually led me here to being the secretary of the technology agency.
STATETECH: How many state agencies does CTA support?
RAMOS: We have essentially two sides to our agency. One is the control agency, which provides oversight to the rest of the state; we review IT initiatives and investments, we approve proposals to build new systems or to make investments in technology, and we provide a level of oversight into how the state manages its portfolio. The other side of our agency delivers technology services. We run the state technology center, our data center. We run a division called the Public Safety Communications Office.
As a control agency, we have oversight of about 50 agencies. On the services side, we provide services to more than 230 public-sector entities.
STATETECH: Tell me about your experience in the private sector.
RAMOS: About three years ago, I left the government because I had always wanted to run my own business and be an entrepreneur. I started my own consulting practice working primarily around government, working with the vendor companies that provide service to the state and nationally. It was really good experience for me because I got to see how the private sector works and how private-sector companies organize themselves, function, deliver services and run their businesses.
STATETECH: How do you strike a balance between good project methodology and creativity?
RAMOS: I am not so sure that they are necessarily in conflict. The things that generally get technology projects in trouble come down to four or five basic issues. You need a clear understanding of what the objective of a technology project is. When projects get in trouble, a lack of clarity around what business problem they are trying to solve is one part of it. The second part is how active or engaged the business or program side of the house is in these initiatives. Along with managing change, you have to make sure you have the right resource levels, that people are skilled, that they are knowledgeable about their individual disciplines and that they have clear marching orders in terms of what they’re trying to achieve, what business problem they’re trying to solve and how they are going to apply technology to do that. And then you put in place project management methodology.
STATETECH: Do you have any additional goals for the IT agency, other than what we’ve discussed?
RAMOS: I’d like to look at what role our agency and the state in general can have in terms of fostering or leveraging technology as a discipline to better serve constituents. And I guess to the extent that we can, helping the private sector to make investments in developing a workforce that’s going to support not only the state technology, but California as a whole in terms of better use of technology.
I’d love to engage with the private sector to see how we can foster education programs or how we can promote folks getting into technology as a career path. Then, how we can leverage those students coming out of the universities and technical schools and training programs to come and work for government or other sectors of the commercial business world. We need a very strong and educated workforce.
STATETECH: Speaking of that, one of your goals is to make sure that your staff has the right skills and the proper training. What do you see as important these days for people who are looking, say, to join the California Technology Agency?
RAMOS: They need business skills, effective communication skills and leadership training. They need to learn how to make decisions and what to do in a crisis because inevitably there will be a crisis. It could be a hacking incident, it could be a system that goes down because of a power outage or a project that gets into trouble. How do you function affectively in those crisis situations?
Part of our job is to help the state workforce come up to speed in those areas. We don’t do it alone; we work with training partners and we leverage our business partners in the private sector.