Massachusetts CIO talks consolidation, elevation to cabinet role

Every time I interview another state chief information officer I am struck by the range of backgrounds among these individuals. Secretary Curt Wood of the Massachusetts Executive Office of Technology Services and Security (TSS) and state CIO is no exception.

Wood served 30-some years in public safety positions in Massachusetts, but it was his 23 years as a correctional officer, reaching the rank of captain and heading up fugitive drug and gang squads that stand out on his resume. Add to that his time time overseeing the state crime lab and medical examiner’s office, and it makes for a unique episode of Ask the CIO: SLED Edition.

33 years in public safety

Curt Wood, right, Massachusetts state CIO

Wood said both state police and corrections offices are “very formidable” groups with plentiful mobile technology and demands.

“They required redundant systems for mission critical applications — operational, supported and available,” he said.

His safety and security background was a major factor for receiving the statewide CIO position, especially where cybersecurity is concerned. This has been the top priority for state CIOs for the last several years as indicated by annual CIO surveys by the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO).

“So I think, with my experience, it’s allowed me to understand the security framework, to prioritize security, and moving into this role now with a heavy emphasis on cyber security, protecting the data assets and the information systems of the Commonwealth,” he said.

It’s been just over a quarter century since former Gov. Bill Weld appointed me as Massachusetts’ first CIO, and it was delightful to to hear the strides the Commonwealth has made under current Gov. Charlie Baker, my old boss who was then-secretary of Administration and Finance.

In 2017 the Baker administration consolidated the state’s CIO office, elevating the role and creating the Massachusetts Executive Office of Technology Services and Security. It’s a governance model similar to that of Maryland and, until last year, Virginia. Wood this move finally succeeded after several past attempts because of Baker.

”The biggest thing is we have a governor that actually understands it, and he came in day one, took the time to understand it, met with the people, talk to the people, and saw it got done,” Wood said.

Massachusetts’ consolidation is ongoing. TSS has authority over all IT budgets, technology project approval and policy as well. Wood established a collaborative framework called the Secretariat, comprised of CIOs from all cabinet agencies, which he believes is critical to the Commonwealth’s success — that along with his ranking as a cabinet member. He said it helps makes sure the businesses are appropriately represented. Wood felt strongly that he had to have the credibility and respect that comes from being in the trenches.

“I started this and built the framework and foundation. I felt I had to be involved as a secretary, but more importantly, the CIO, because of my experience,” he said. “I understand what it’s like being at the ground level, a line person, and being an executive within an organization from the business perspective. I felt for the next couple of years it was very important for me to be at both secretary and CIO.”

Massachusetts’ unique IT Bond finances investment

Shifting to Massachusetts’ budgetary model, Wood revealed that whereas most state enterprise IT organizations operate on a chargeback basis, billing their client agencies for actual infrastructure or other services, the Commonwealth is shifting to a directly appropriated budget. The reason is transparency, as too often central IT organizations can hide their actual costs in the official budget, justifying it by explaining that their entire budget is “reimbursed.” California is one example, according to Deputy Secretary for Communications at the state’s Government Operations Agency Lynda Gledhill.

TSS has about 440 staff and an annual budget of $170 million. As consolidation continues the majority of the Commonwealth’s total IT staff of about 1,200 FTE’s will reside within TSS.

When I was Massachusetts state CIO we had a unique funding mechanism for IT projects. Since the early 1990s the Commonwealth financed most IT projects through a revenue bond administered by its CIO’s office. It’s a model that attracted significant interest across the country but was never adopted elsewhere.

“Since then, we’ve had multiple variations of the IT capital program. For those of you in the audience, we’re just finishing a program with five years of funding, and about $600 million that was invested into the Commonwealth,” he said. “We’re about to file another bond bill for about the same amount, the near future”.

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Broad new initiatives for 2019-2020

Looking forward, Wood detailed several key initiatives including collapsing nine cabinet networks into one. A core redesign of the network itself is also planned.

He also revealed a huge new investment in cybersecurity, implementation of a Centrify solution for identity management, moving toward an enterprise multi-factor authentication process, completing a roll out of Office 365, a major focus on business intelligence and analytics, and growing cloud initiatives currently working with Amazon Web Services.

While in the nation’s capital, Wood also met folks from the Department Homeland Security and the Cyber Security Division to chat about some ongoing initiatives. It seems you can take the captain out of public safety, but you can’t take public safety out of the captain.

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