Montana's CIO Forges Ahead to Improve State Government Through IT
By Theo Douglas, Government Technology
Montana’s new CIO will build on his experience and work history to forge better staff connections and further Gov. Steve Bullock’s effective government initiative.
CIO Tim Bottenfield, who started work on July 2, came to the Montana State Information Technology Services Division (SITSD) from the Department of Revenue (DOR), where he’d been CIO for seven years. Bottenfield told Government Technology his education and early work in forestry and forestry science, a data-rich environment; as well as a 25-year career at Auburn University in Alabama were excellent preparation for a tech-focused C-level position.
In this new role, Bottenfield said he’ll mine his broad knowledge of IT, existing relationships and an empathy for fellow staffers to further the governor’s goals, which include conserving resources, boosting efficiency and increasing transparency. Another priority is meeting the mission of SITSD’s biennial strategic plan, which was most recently updated in March by Chief Technology Officer Matt Van Syckle. The plan's objectives and principles include strong cybersecurity through best practices; a shared and managed services environment; public-private partnerships; and minimizing duplication. Van Syckle was interim CIO from late January, when CIO Ron Baldwin left for the private sector, until July.
Likely his highest priority, the CIO said, is maintaining a hardened cybersecurity posture through the use of modern technology and aggressive training and education. A partnership between DOR and SITSD roughly four years ago led to the deployment of two-factor authentication across all state agencies and virtually all staff.
“It’s not a sexy thing to talk about, but it has to be central to everything we do. It doesn’t really matter if you’re the Department of Revenue, if you’re the Health and Human Services agency … everybody gets the fact that security is the No. 1 thing,” Bottenfield said, praising Van Syckle and Baldwin for their efforts securing the state.
Agencies including the governor’s office and SITSD spent about a year scrutinizing a Belief-Desire-Intention (BDI) software model-based initiative that could lead to what Bottenfield characterized as a “Unified Desktop Workspace environment” — potentially enabling the state to more closely connect and monitor endpoints.
“Through this initiative and through this type of technology, we feel that we’ll have a better handle on security than we do right now with just the standard desktop sitting on somebody’s desk,” he said, adding that the goal is to convert SITSD as soon as this fall, and conduct pilot testing in “different lines of business” at other agencies.
Following an executive order from the governor, the state has worked to consolidate and optimize executive-level infrastructure — a goal that Baldwin said last year should save millions of dollars when fully implemented and improve sharing through what would essentially be a “private cloud.”
The effort has enabled significant monetary savings through a convergence of agency data, Bottenfield said, with roughly “99.5 percent” of agency data now housed at “state-of-the-art” state data centers in Helena and Miles City. But it has also positioned the state to offer server space via public-private partnerships to outside entities and agencies in other jurisdictions. The CIO called it “a really cost-effective move" for the state.
Bottenfield said he’s working to lead from the top, demonstrating that the way to “best serve the citizens is being able to serve the agencies.” To that end, he has instituted regular meetings with agency CIOs and staff to hear about their needs and concerns. He thinks the state is headed toward a “more consistent approach” to showcasing information and interacting with residents, but needs to be mindful of convergence there, too, and ensure agencies undertake the same tasks in the same way, to avoid unnecessary complication.
As it is in other states and local governments, the issue of hiring and retaining motivated, experienced IT personnel is another challenge confronting Montana. The CIO called it “kind of a dogfight” to hire exceptional people in a state with low unemployment, a young mobile workforce and experienced workers more likely to be set in their ways and have preconceived notions. The solution, Bottenfield said, has been to tailor recruiting to the person being sought as well as to the agency’s needs.
“I think that where we’ve been for many years is ‘one size fits all,’ and it doesn’t,” he said.