The Montana State Capitol building in Helena. 

Jun 03 2021

Q&A: Montana CIO Kevin Gilbertson on the Way Forward for Modernization

The Treasure State’s new IT chief discusses moving off mainframes, hybrid work and building relationships with state agencies.

In late March, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte appointed Kevin Gilbertson, the former vice president of product strategy and enablement at Helix Business Solutions, as the state’s new CIO.

Gilbertson succeeded Tim Bottenfield, who announced his retirement in November after two years at the helm of the state’s IT organization. Gilbertson has praised Bottenfield’s decision to issue a process automation and digital services contract to ServiceNow and intends to build on that work, as well as on Bottenfield’s efforts to get the state off its legacy mainframe technology.

StateTech recently spoke with Gilbertson about his IT modernization priorities, how he envisions creating new roles such as chief data officer and a role focusing on customer relationship management, and how Montana’s technology will evolve in 2021 and beyond.

STATETECH: What are your main IT modernization priorities, not just for the rest of the year but into next year and beyond as well?

Gilbertson: From a beyond standpoint, I’m new enough that I reserve the right to do more future strategy as I get in. That said, in terms of modernization, there’s several different things that we want to be thinking about. Some of it is being forced, coming out of COVID. We had everyone go work from home, and that lasted over a year. That’s been a trying ground for us where we’ve found processes that fully depended on paper or were not necessarily great for a work-anywhere type of an environment. So, in the short term, we want to work on getting off paper.

Other things that we’re capitalizing on in terms of what Tim had done was, we’re still eliminating the mainframe. That will be gone this year. We are going to continue cloud adoption and choose to go cloud wherever it most makes sense and emphasize that where we can — Software as a Service certainly wherever possible.

We’re trying to figure out if there are low-code or no-code types of solutions we can get into the hands of the business users to take control of some of the things that they’re trying to do.

Overall, the modernization that we’re trying to do, as with everything else that I’m doing, is wrapped around the business, the mission, what can we do to help in technology, not for technology’s sake, but basically as it helps different agencies around the state succeed.

STATETECH: Do you have a plan, in concert with the governor and other stakeholders in the state, on how to best use funds coming from the American Rescue Plan Act to modernize systems?

Gilbertson: Essentially, the ARPA funds are going to be spent throughout the state on things like housing, water, infrastructure, broadband — so, a real focus on the agencies themselves. However, as you point out, this is quite an opportunity to be able to do some upgrades, if you will.

In terms of the administration of these funds, we are working to have a central contact center to make sure folks can get the help they need for grants and other items related to our budget. We’re using this as an opportunity to build out what a modern contact center might look like. This is coming from my background as well, where we’re basically wanting to have web-based telephony, and we’re building this on top of ServiceNow and it’s going to be full omnichannel support as we move forward.

Kevin Gilbertson, Montana CIO
We’re trying to figure out if there are low-code or no-code types of solutions we can get into the hands of the business users.”

Kevin Gilbertson Montana CIO

Broadband comes in a lot here too. We are working on improving the broadband infrastructure for our libraries. Then, there’s a lot that’s going to be dependent on private sector companies and local governments in terms of what they want to do. We’ll be supporting that.

As always, as the agencies come up with what they need to do, and IT is going to be here to try and help them to take it to the next level as we administer these funds.

EXPLORE: Learn why improving online experiences is key to digital government.

STATETECH: Is there a plan right now to use ARPA funds for things like cloud migration? Or is that being funded through other sources?

Gilbertson: Correct. You talked about the foundation that was laid before. We’ve got tools like ServiceNow that we’re continuing to beef up our usage of, and we do have a good framework in place. There are a few things in ARPA that will enable us to take the usage of those tools to the next level, getting us off of some more dated technologies.

STATETECH: Can you talk about how the ServiceNow contract is aimed at helping the state with things such as process automation and getting to a more digital service delivery framework?

Gilbertson: So far, it’s been going well. We’ve put a few applications in place on top of that platform, which has enabled us to move away from some legacy technologies. We are in the process of going through all of our applications. We did a big migration away from Montana Interactive. They were doing a great job, but we want to take this into our hands. We are doing an evaluation in terms of what e-government can be transitioned onto the platform and the tools that we have at an enterprise level. We’re going at it as quickly as we can, but trying to take a look at every opportunity we have to take advantage of that investment and to get it to be a bit more modern.

MORE FROM STATETECH: Explore the technology and approaches needed to quickly enable digital government.

STATETECH: Do you see different benefits to different models, or is it just that you are taking a look at the landscape and figuring out what will work best?

Gilbertson: We’re trying to examine those things on more of a case-by-case basis. Things like SaaS, where we can implement that as the best solution for that application, that’s something that we went forward on. In terms of other uses we are evaluating that on a case-by-case basis to determine what’s best — whether to keep it private for now or move to cloud. There is an emphasis that if we can move to the cloud, we will.

STATETECH: What do you and the governor think is going to be the best model for the state workforce moving forward? Is it hybrid work or something else?

Gilbertson: That’s still being evaluated, and there are some studies being done on that. I can’t talk to the end state other than to basically say that we realized remote is here to stay. It’s not going away. There are some potential benefits from it.

Kevin Gilbertson, Montana CIO
I can’t talk to the end state other than to basically say that we realized remote is here to stay. It’s not going away.”

Kevin Gilbertson Montana CIO

We’ve seen with some of our folks increased efficiency by being able to be in an environment where they haven’t had interruptions. I think we’ve seen that in my organization as well. We see the opportunity to optimize office space, things like that. No decisions have been made, but we do recognize the benefits that are associated with going to a hybrid model. Within the State Information Technology Services Division, my department as a whole, we certainly are going to be hybrid.

RELATED: How will remote work tools help state agencies recruit new talent?

STATETECH: You’re really enthusiastic about the idea of adding in the roles of chief data officer and a customer experience officer. Can you talk about your vision there?

Gilbertson: There’s a lot of different things here. Let’s start with the chief customer success office. This is something we are getting up and running here in May. We’re moving rather quickly on this. The structure that we’re setting up is similar to those that other states have set up for these types of offices. We are basically distributed, so we’ve got central IT, and then each agency has its own IT, but what we’re trying to do for customer success is ensure that, in working with the agencies, they can take the most advantage of the work that we’re doing here.

Customer success managers are going to be assigned to agencies. Therefore, the agencies have a single person that they can come to in SITSD to basically track down anything that they need — monitoring their tickets in the ticketing system, things like that, and hopefully just making sure that they’re maximizing the investment that every agency makes in IT, both from their own as well as what we provide them.

From that perspective, with some other things, such as a combined strategic planning where we’re doing a CIO strategy conference here later this the summer, we’re creating relationships with the agencies where we can be collaborating to eliminate redundancy and inefficiency wherever we see it. That will take some time to put in place, but those are some of the things that we’re aiming for there.

Now the chief data officer role, I don’t want to speak too much for that, because we’ve identified that role as not reporting only to me, although I will have interaction with that role. It will be also within the Department of Administration.

This is a new role. We’re now just trying to look at first principles. What data exists throughout the agencies? What should the data infrastructure be? What is modern, but supportable and affordable? How can we address security concerns? Above all, just establishing data governance that brings together all the disparate data.

Once that happens, of course, then all of a sudden we get the ability to do more data-driven decision-making. Because we will have that available to us — and it may be as simple as doing this visualization through Tableau, or something a little bit more advanced where we may be trying to do some machine learning with that data. I can’t speak for the person who’s going to take that role, but the initial role here is really going to be setting a foundation for how to get that data into a place where it’s usable by the state.

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