New Hampshire CIO may serve another year as NASCIO president

CIO Denis Goulet describes New Hampshire's response to COVID-19, planning for NASCIO's virtual annual conference next week, and hints he may serve a second term...

To put it mildly, 2020 has indeed been a year of disruption at so many levels, and the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) is not immune.

Unrelated to the COVID-19 pandemic, however, New Hampshire CIO Denis Goulet took over the reins as president, following outgoing President Eric Boyette, who was CIO of North Carolina until his governor appointed him transportation secretary back in February.

Consequently, Goulet began his NASCIO term just as the pandemic was about to metastasize around the globe. I asked Goulet about the effect on the Granite State.

“First of all, we were watching what was going on in China and thinking, ‘Hmm, what should we be getting ready for during the early days in China?’ and that kind of forward thinking helped us a lot,” Goulet said.

He asked his Department of Information Technology directors and key department heads to start thinking about what needed to be done to support a mass exodus of state workers from their offices to their homes.

“So we got planning on that early, which was very helpful. And so when the stay-at-home orders came out in New Hampshire, and the governor was advising that we have as many people as we possibly [can] working from home, we were just slightly ahead of that,” he said. And according to Goulet, New Hampshire government in terms of execution stayed ahead of it the whole time. “But just barely. Not only did we have to make sure that state employees had the tools to work in a secure fashion, protecting citizen data at home — but we had to scale our infrastructure for remote access very quickly to support many thousands more working remotely than we’d ever seen before.”

Pandemic reflects state CIOs’ finest hour

Based upon my conversations with dozens of state CIO and NASCIO officials, I related to Goulet my impression that states’ overall response to the pandemic challenges has been exemplary. The state CIOs and their teams have become essential workers just like first responders and health care workers.

It’s also one of the first times that a lot of CIOs have had such face to face opportunities to discuss their role with their governor as most state CIOs aren’t members of the cabinet like Goulet, and perhaps a dozen others who have regular access. Most state CIOs may only see their governor at retirements and Christmas parties.

So this is the first time in quite a while that so many CIOs have had that intense one-on-one conversation with their boss, the governor who asks them pointedly, “Will our state  government be able to continue operations?” And certainly I think overall, and from my discussions with state CIOs across the country and with our friend, Doug Robinson, NASCIO’s executive director, I certainly think it’s been state CIOs’ finest hour. I think we’re going to learn a lot more about that, of course, but I think they’ve really risen to the occasion.

Goulet was quick to concur.

“Absolutely. In my role at NASCIO, I’m exposed to a lot of what’s going on nationally. We saw that we really delivered the goods in New Hampshire and around the country with respect to continuing to provide important citizen services during the initial response, and now recovery parts of the pandemic,” he said.

Goulet added that in New Hampshire, the governor had very high expectations for all of the agencies, with respect to very quickly scaling services to deliver for our citizens.

“And that’s appropriate, that’s all of our job,” said, expecting that his peers across the country would echo this sentiment. “There are times when you have challenging situations, it brings out the best in people, and you collaborate more and better, to deliver on things. I saw that it was a human factor thing. And it really did come into play in New Hampshire and I think around the country with respect to adapting quickly, delivering the goods and IT solutions quickly.”

NASCIO’s events calendar disrupted by pandemic

NASCIO’s annual conference is next week and like last spring’s mid-year event it will be held virtually. As NASCIO president during both, Goulet will again preside over the proceedings. He was enthusiastic about it, and especially appreciative of all the work that the NASCIO staff and program committee had put in.

“First of all, I have to commend the NASCIO staff for their ability to rapidly pivot and be creative in these dynamic situations. Doug and his team have done a great job,” Goulet said.

He mentioned that one of the primary things which NASCIO has built its success upon is not only serving the state CIO community, but also serving the its vendor partners as well.

“So as we were planning for the October event, we engaged our vendor partner community on what would be valuable to them,” he said. During COVID, Goulet also spoke regularly with the states’ CIO community. “So we had a good sense for what they wanted. They really didn’t want eight or 10 hours a day in front of a computer.”

So NASCIO has adapted in the ways to engage with CIOs and with sponsors and the entire community.

“But like all of us, I really miss being with my fellow CIOs, all of the friends I developed in the vendor community, as well as the folks in the press, whom we speak to regularly. So I really miss that,” Goulet said.

However, he anticipates a very engaging event next week and really looks forward to it, with an interesting twist. Usually the president is no longer emceeing the conference on the last day because a new president is elected. However, since Goulet will have served for less than a year following Boyett’s resignation, Goulet has expressed an interest in staying in the post for another, in this case, full-year term. NASCIO officials will consider this development next week, so stay tuned.

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Host John Thomas Flynn is former California and Massachusetts chief information officer and former president of the National Association of State CIOs. The show features conversations with state and local CIOs, CISOs, program leadership and elected officials, and the IT vendor community. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Podcast One.