Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has made it clear he wants his state to be a technology hub in every sense of the word. The governor has earmarked technology efforts in everything from cybersecurity to driverless cars as the way to build a healthy economy in the commonwealth, calling tech employment the “jobs of the 21st century” in a recent speech, StateTech reports.
The job of implementing and growing technology efforts across the state, in line with the governor’s efforts, falls to Virginia CIO Nelson Moe. He recently sat down with StateTech to speak about the emphasis on cybersecurity and the benefits of a consolidated IT system, as well as to highlight the state’s outlook for current cloud migrations and more agile procurement methods in the near term.
Gov. McAuliffe has been especially vocal about how states need to bolster cybersecurity efforts and strategies, noting at the 2017 RSA Cybersecurity Conference earlier this year that states will need to take the lead on improving cyber infrastructure.
In line with these comments, Moe says the state is focused on growing its cyber efforts in two areas, both by increasing the safety of citizen data and also by making the commonwealth a cyber hub, boosting Virginia’s economy and making it less dependent on federal dollars.
“There are more than 36,000 IT jobs in the cyber area open in Virginia today, and we have set up a website to help align job openings with potential candidates,” says Moe.
In addition to growing the talent pool, Virginia is looking to help incubate cyber startups and help the fledgling companies to identify contract opportunities through the MACH 37 startup incubator at the Center for Innovation Technologies, the government’s sister technology agency.
Last year, Virginia started down a path to embrace cloud services, specifically, putting data in the Google Cloud and embracing Software as a Service (SaaS).
“It's not everything, but we are migrating the things that make sense,” says Moe, noting that many legacy systems and applications may never be cloud ready. “We have to make sure that agency applications are configured for basically the non-custom processes of the cloud, and we have to be able to get to that, or buy software services out in the cloud.”
Still, he pinpoints some major advantages for the move to cloud services.
“For large-scale infrastructure IT, it makes less and less sense for state budgets, which are very much constrained, to buy their own data center. Every dollar that’s spent on a data center could be used to pay for Medicaid or a case worker; it could be used for fighting opioid addiction, growing the economy and addressing other priorities,” he says.
Currently, the commonwealth has a contract with consulting firm Tempus Nova, using Google, to move all agency email from an on-premises data center to the cloud.
But the move isn’t without its headaches.
“The largest hurdle is making sure that service providers meet our standards. The standards for Virginia, particularly in the area of security, are extremely rigorous, more so than many suppliers have encountered previously,” he says.
Centralizing and consolidating IT operations and services came in as one of the top concerns for CIOs in the National Association of State Chief Information Officers’ 2017 survey, which marks the leading priorities for state CIOs. Luckily, Virginia already has much of its consolidation covered. Over a decade ago, the commonwealth moved to consolidate IT infrastructure, cybersecurity, governance and procurement services.
“Consolidation is a priority across both federal and state government data centers,” says Moe. “We have primary and backup data centers that house our mainframes, including email services, internet connections, firewalls and such — all of which were consolidated back in 2005.”
Moe says the state is seeing some major benefits in reducing redundancies.
“We are seeing more of a consistent approach and efficiencies. We understand the IT spend better and have a consistent security policy. If there were any redundancies in the data center, they were eliminated.”
Currently, Moe is managing the commonwealth’s 13-year $2.13 billion contract for IT infrastructure services, governance for commonwealth IT projects, and procurements and cybersecurity protection of the commonwealth’s data. Nearly two years from the end of this contract, Moe says one of his main objectives is to move the state’s IT procurement process into a more nimble, next-generation environment.
“If I had a magic wand, I would implement a much more agile approach to contracting and service delivery,” Moe says.
“We've set up an enterprise cloud oversight service (ECOS). It is basically a one-stop shop in the governance and supply chain processes. ECOS is a process that vets the suppliers’ offers to make sure they meet our terms and conditions, security requirements, contract terms. Once that's done and that assessment is finished, we can then go back and finish the contract process,” says Moe.
He notes that it’s important first to understand the needs of a specific agency within the state as you look to contract a vendor for a service. In offering advice to other states looking to run effective technology-focused governments, Moe recommends looking at the needs of the agency and the residents it looks to serve in order to choose an effective technology strategy.
“It’s business-related; it’s not technology-related. It’s about understanding the business needs and how technology can better serve the agencies and their constituency,” Moe says. “Technology is so adaptable you can fit it to your needs, but it’s having that business-first approach that’s important.”