Thursday, April 16, 2020

CIO Theresa Talks: Staying Positive During a Pandemic

Matt and Amy of NASCIO, the National Association of State CIOs, talk with Colorado CIO Dr. Theresa Szczurek about her role in the COVID-19 response in her state, how to pursue your passionate purpose, finding success, women in technology, and her overall work in Colorado state government. 

Click here for podcast with Dr. Theresa Szczurek

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Insights from Julia Richman - OIT's New Chief Strategy Officer

We’re living in some unusual times. Anyone who watched The Walking Dead went through a period of wondering what it would be like to survive isolated on one’s own. While I never did anything about my own ponderings at the time, my husband and I recently went through some planning to think through what we might need at home in the case of social distancing. I’m now left wondering what we’re going to do with all the Eggos and ramen packs he bought once we’re able to commune together again. Especially since the grocery stores have remained open! There are parts of this present crisis that bring me back to past work in emergency planning and response. While very painful at the time, it is instructive to me now.

Shovel Ready. After the market crashed in 2008 and the fed signaled a stimulus package was on its way, I worked with the Commonwealth of Massachusetts helping the state prepare for the receipt of those federal dollars. The state had stood up about a dozen task forces with more than 100 people from different levels of government to think through its emergency response. Anyone working in government during that time may remember how “shovel ready projects” were the name of the game. What we learned was, not much was shovel ready for any department, in any state. Then most of the funding ended up following standard federal funding channels instead of going to discrete projects. We had built a model for preparedness for something that didn’t come to pass.

Emergency Preparedness. I finished that project and began working to help create the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness, which was a new agency coming into existence in response to hurricanes Katrina and Rita. I worked in a shopping mall that had been destroyed by the hurricanes. It had visible water damage up to eye level. It looked like the old Cinderella City mall had married a tsunami. My team of developers worked from indoor aluminum picnic tables for months. 

Resilience. I joined the City of Boulder in 2017, three years after the catastrophic flooding occurred from what amounted to the average annual amount of rain falling in the course of five days. As a result of the lessons learned during this event, we undertook both emergency preparedness activities at the city and, as CIO, I also pushed a lot of initiatives that would enable a resilient, redundant, and mobile workforce, recognizing that disruption is likely the new normal. During my time, we piloted remote city council meetings, moved away from a license based VPN approach to a different set of tools that enabled everyone in the city to securely connect from anywhere, we embarked on DR in the cloud, got off of on premise individual file servers, and were in the process of migrating shared file storage to the cloud when I left. We invested in collaboration software to allow for teaming, anywhere, any time. 

Now that we’re working through many of these challenges in the state, I’m proud to think of how resilient those efforts have made those organizations and how we can do the same for the state. I keep thinking about the lessons I can take from those experiences into this current emergency; other than confidence in knowing that it will eventually end. Here’s what I’ve got to offer:
  1. Never waste a crisis—Change can actually be easier in times of disruption. Use this time to push more heavily on existing critical investments in cloud, collaboration, and redundancy tools.
  2. Teamwork is everything—Did you know you’re more likely to survive a disaster if you know your neighbor? I like to think that anyone can be our neighbor and that even in social distancing, staying connected to one another will help us work through any obstacle. 
  3. Work can get done under any conditions—You may feel scattered working from home at the kitchen table for days on end, but you may also be surprised at how productive you can actually be taking more small breaks for things like sick kids or making lunches, rather than staring endlessly at your computer screen. 
  4. Learn from everything—Even as emails and deadlines are flying, the pressure cooker we’re in right now can be really informative as to future shocks and stresses on our systems, tools, and teams. Take some time to jot down your observations, opportunities for improvement, and new ideas that come from these challenges. You might not be able to take action yet, but eventually you will! 
I’m so proud to be part of OIT and while my time has started off with government imposed social distancing, I already feel close to my OIT colleagues.

Today's blog comes from OIT Chief Strategy Officer Julia Richman