Former New Jersey CIO Steve Emanuel Discusses Accomplishments While in Office

Photo: Steve Emanuel Photo Credit: Courtesy Steve Emanuel
Steve Emanuel | Courtesy Steve Emanuel

[NJTechWeekly was pleased to spend some phone time last month with Steve Emanuel,  former CIO of the State of New Jersey. We had written about Emanuel here, when he first took the job. This time we asked him to review some of his and his team’s accomplishments during his nearly five-year tenure. Emanuel has moved on to his new position as Industry Advisor for Public Sector and Regulated Industries at Alliant Technologies (Morristown), where he is eager to help government CIOs and CIOs in regulated industries figure out how they can be innovative while they are constantly putting out fires.]

When you talk to Steve Emanuel, the former CIO of the State of New Jersey who oversaw the New Jersey Office of Information Technology (OIT) from December 2011 to April 2016, he’ll tell you that he couldn’t have achieved what he did without his team.

So when asked him what accomplishments he was most proud of during his tenure as New Jersey’s CIO, he did respond, but he first wanted everyone to know that he couldn’t have been able to implement what he did without “a solid team behind [him] and without some outstanding individuals at the state and national levels.”

“This was all about doing things that could benefit the citizen and the government,” he said. “It was about how we could take the State of New Jersey’s excellent workforce, look at all the challenges that were in front of them and figure out how we could solve their problems. We wanted to solve problems foundationally, so when we resolved any issue, the result solved problems in the future going forward.”

Applying a Project Management Approach to State Projects

Emanuel said that when he first started working for the New Jersey state government, there was no structured project-management model.  From an IT management point of view, there’s a reason why a project-management  approach is important and why highly successful organizations have adopted one, he said.  Project management ensures that systems meet business-mission needs. And running a state government’s IT organization should be treated like running a business.

Every IT organization serving a state agency, commission and department has to be able to identify the business problem it is trying to address for the business leader, so that the leader doesn’t have to think about the underlying support or where technology is going, Emanuel said. IT must provide the direction, he added, but as IT leaders, “we should be looking at [the business leaders’] needs and making sure we actually accomplish what has to be done.”

So within the first six months of his appointment, he hired Kathy Smith, who had “a true project-management-leader discipline. She was strong and would not let us fall victim to the priority of the day. She made us focus on the priorities for foundational change.”

The project management official needed to educate the IT managers and others in the various state agencies about how to implement a process based on successful project-management methodologies. She implemented regular project-management training and created a group that met monthly called the “Project Management User Group.” Emanuel noted that some of the state’s IT constituency didn’t participate wholeheartedly, “and their fate was met and projects just failed.”

Taking a Better Approach to Governance and Governance Structure

“When I arrived in the state, the prior CTO had been responsible for both governance and operations,” Emanuel said. That created a significant conflict of interest, he noted. “What do you address, the thing that’s on fire or building the fire extinguisher and figuring out the way to put out fires in the future?”

Emanuel reorganized OIT, creating the first agency position of COO and separating the function of his office from the line functions of the IT staff. “We were then able to have one person responsible for day-to-day operations, so I could be looking at ways to be strategic and improve operations for the future.”

Over the first couple of years, Emanuel and his team had to contend with some very unstable infrastructure. “During my second year there, we saw a lot of outages.” And it happened because there hadn’t been a concerted focus on a sustainable IT infrastructure, he said.

From 2013 to 2014, he concentrated on developing sustainable operations. “We brought some outside folks in to take a look at our systems, our contracts and our warrantees. What we had was what we had,” but the consultants looked at whether Emanuel’s team needed to add to their equipment and software or move to the cloud, where they could ask vendors to provide solutions in a different manner.

“We had a lot of opportunities in 2014 to do a lot of that, and we actually made our foray into the cloud.”

One of the first cloud services that New Jersey implemented during Emanuel’s tenure was its mobile data management. “We went out and looked at AirWatch, a perfectly good solution in the cloud, and we adopted it.” Also, many state agencies now use Office 365. The New Jersey state government began that migration in 2013, although some large state agencies are still migrating. “Some had made recent investments in premises systems, so we said, ‘let’s get the useful life out of it.’” Emanuel recalled that he had a commitment from the state treasurer that every time an agency was ready to upgrade its email system, it would have to move to the cloud.

Creation of the Chief Data Officer Position

“We hired the chief data officer, Liz Rowe, about a year ago, and have not regretted that whatsoever,” said Emanuel. He noted that there had been a lot of focus not only on the data, but also on use sharing and other aspects of the data. “We are looking at data as an asset. It was never really treated as an asset before.” The chief data officer focuses on data classification, security and commonality between organizations. “There was a concerted effort to focus on what data means to the state and how we could make it more useful.”

Reducing Cloud Sourcing from Years to Months

One of the most successful projects Emanuel “instigated” was creating a consortium of 22 state and local CIOs, along with a number of commercial entities, to outline the challenges that government was going to face when starting to use the cloud.

In effect, he initiated what he believes will become a cloud marketplace that’ll be “able to bring cloud solutions to government in months instead of years,” providing nearly the same agility afforded to private companies.

The consortium produced a white paper that was published in September 2014 by the Center for Digital Government. “We found that ‘cloud’ could be interpreted differently by different people, so we established a baseline for the different services in the cloud,” Emanuel said.

 “We ended up realizing that the biggest problem was the difference between the terms and conditions that commercial providers were offering and those that government wanted.”

The consortium spent a good part of a year figuring out where government and industry had made concessions in their terms and conditions, so they could create a new baseline. There were about 20 of 32 terms and conditions that vendors and state governments had already agreed on. Under Emanuel’s leadership, the state CIOs who had participated in the consortium took these findings to the National Association of State Chief Information Officers Procurement Task Force.

This effort spurred some sharing with the National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO) as well. In 2015, NASPO’s Value Point organization, which orchestrates common cooperative agreements to achieve the cost-effective and efficient acquisition of products and services, created a cloud-marketplace request for proposal (RFP) based on the consortium’s findings, led by the State of Utah. Twelve states initially participated in the creation of the RFP, and now 34 states are considering using it.

Cyber Security, Disaster Recovery and Continuity of Operations

During the course of Emanuel’s tenure, he, his first COO, Gloria Broeker, and former chief information security officer, John Essner, put together a tool that the Office of Information Technology could use to assess cyber-security, disaster-recovery and continuity-of-operations readiness. “We ended up developing it so that every agency could do a self-assessment” of its status, based on best practices.

After passing the tool on to the agencies, the group compiled their responses. They were then able to provide the New Jersey Office of the Governor and the State Treasury a picture of the challenges the state faced in these three areas. The report delineated the places where the state was strong, but also talked about the opportunities for improvements and why they were important, making the Office of the Governor and the Office of Management and Budget aware of the need for funding in those areas.

Emanuel said that he had shared this assessment tool with NASCIO, and that the tool had been nominated for a recognition award. Although it didn’t win, it created a lot of buzz among other state CIOs. “It got some national press” and showed that the State of New Jersey was “forward thinking in what we were doing,” and that New Jersey could contribute to another national conversation.

He pointed out that his group hadn’t completely re-invented the wheel when it developed the tool, but, as he had said before, “We do our government R&D (rob and duplicate).” The assessment tool was based loosely on the Gartner CIO maturity model for assessing CIOs and how close they are to an innovation role. The team took the idea, adapted it to the three areas of cyber security, disaster recovery and continuity of operations, and applied its own math to the model to come up with an assessment scale.

Now that Emanuel is back in the private sector, he is looking forward to helping CIOs in government and regulated industries figure out how to innovate under tough financial circumstances.

Alliant, he said, has taken infrastructure as a service, and already prepackaged it. As a pioneer IT infrastructure utility company, Alliant’s “consumption model perfectly aligns with the public sector’s and regulated industries’ future need to drive value while achieving digital strategies.”

Emanuel said that he can now leverage Alliant’s offering to help solve the problems he had faced at the state and local levels, and offer solutions that respond to the new challenges of digital government and economy.  “I’m proud to be able to get out to the CIOs and find a way for Alliant to become a component for them to be more successful.”


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