Colorado CIO Theresa Szczurek has experience with both startups and large legacy companies, a combination that appealed to the state’s governor.

Apr 11 2019

Q&A: New Colorado CIO Sees Opportunities in Digital Government and Innovation

Theresa Szczurek brings rich private-sector experience to her job.

In January, Colorado gained a new CIO and executive director for the state’s Governor’s Office of Information Technology: Theresa Szczurek, co-founder of Radish Systems, a software firm that develops “voice with visuals” self-service and other live-assistance communications platforms. Szczurek previously served as a management consultant.

StateTech chatted with Szczurek about her state’s pressing IT requirements, applications for exciting new technology and the top CIO priorities surveyed by the National Association for State Chief Information Officers.

STATETECH: Now that you’re CIO of Colorado, what are your first priorities? 

SZCZUREK: The first priority is around supporting the vision of Gov. Jared Polis and the new administration. Gov. Polis is really focused on cost reduction, consistency and efficiency, and he wants to bring in an entrepreneurial spirit and creativity. I think the fact that I had both big company — AT&T — and small entrepreneurial company experience was a plus for him in that department.

Our Office of Information Technology supports 17 executive branch agencies throughout the state. Therefore, we support the governor’s focus on healthcare, which is led by Lt. Gov. Dianne Primavera. As we think of universal healthcare in a large state like Colorado, it will include a telehealth component, given the state’s rural populations, and our office will support that.

Other things in the governor’s vision include support for broadband. For example, one of his primary focus areass leading a statewide effort to expand broadband coverage and capacity. We are on track to deliver on our goal of providing 92 percent rural broadband access by the end of 2020. This is tied in with economic development, of course, because it will create new jobs and expand markets for new and existing businesses, and it will provide better access to educational opportunities and improve public safety.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how different states are going on a smart state journey. 

STATETECH: In addition to telehealth, are there other specific initiatives or programs that demand your attention? 

SZCZUREK: We are supporting and building many of the state’s systems. We’re managing the infrastructure for 17 agencies, which includes the voice data network, the data centers and the public safety communications network for first responders. We support a wide range of applications — 1,200 total — so that has to be our top priority. We do it very well, and will continue the focus on that.

Additionally, there are increasing threats facing private and government systems in terms of cybersecurity. We have a talented information security officer, and we are expanding our cybersecurity work. For example, we’re moving to enable two-factor authentication statewide, and we are educating state employees on cybersecurity risks. Often, employee negligence and bad habits can be some of the biggest risks.

In tandem with our healthcare planning, we are currently modernizing the Colorado Benefits Management System. We successfully moved CBMS into the cloud while improving the user interface. With one final phase left to complete the modernization project this year, this major undertaking has made Colorado among the first states in the nation to move an entire integrated eligibility case system to the cloud. We also have our own state cloud, but this was an experiment to use a third-party cloud, obviously well-respected as an industry standard. This system determines eligibility for medical, food and cash assistance benefits.

STATETECH: Are you working on any new and exciting breakthrough technologies? 

SZCZUREK: We are looking at artificial intelligence as a means to expand service desk support. We will start small with a proof of concept and expand it over time. I have a lot of background in chatbots and phone bots, and this is one area we know there’s great potential for improved service and cost reductions.

We’re going mobile. We have a mobile-first strategy, just like we have a cloud-first strategy, because in our research we have found that 70 percent of people in Colorado have stopped having personal computers and are doing all their business transactions through their smartphones. Thus, we are doing more in terms of supporting mobile device users.

We also have a special blockchain council, where we’re exploring this technology and trying to learn how it can be used to help with digital identity problems, protection of data and other applications.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Find out how knowledge management systems can help state CIOs. 

STATETECH: Every year, NASCIO surveys 50 state CIOs to produce a top 10 list of priorities. Which of those priorities speak to you at the moment?

SZCZUREK: I would say No. 1 is security risk. Last February, our Colorado Department of Transportation faced the SamSam ransomware cyberattack. Because of the way we had set things up with our information security office, we were able to recover 80 percent of the Colorado Department of Trans-portation systems within just four weeks. And no data was lost. No ransom was paid.

No. 2 is digital government. We are very much interested in customer experience. I already talked about how our end users are going mobile. We have an architecture and strong technology and customer offices that run our projects, working to make every digital solution efficient and operating at its best

Photography by Willie Petersen

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