Q & A: FTB's Cathy Cleek on Enterprise Data to Revenue Project

As CIO for the Franchise Tax Board, Cathy Cleek oversees the Enterprise Data to Revenue (EDR) project that promises to modernize California’s tax system. Last summer the 5 ½ -year project was launched with partner CGI to help close California’s $6.5 billion tax gap. To give an update on the project and provide insight into her strategy, Cathy took some time to answer a few questions for Techwire.net.

Please give us an update on your EDR project, how is it going so far?

Very well. I am very proud of the team of state staff and service provider team (vendor). Our first major deliverable was due September 30 and we delivered two weeks early! This deliverable added additional data for our collection processes to use. We are already seeing dollars for the State come in the door!
What challenges, if any, are you experiencing (or do you expect) as the project gets underway?

Cathy Cleek, CIO, Franchise Tax Board Photo courtesy of FTB Public Affairs Office

In my 15 years of project work, I’ve found the most difficult phases of a project are the beginning and end. In the beginning, you need to work to make sure the team understands the scope of work, roles and responsibilities as well as the processes we will be using to do work. As if that is not enough, you need to think about the team culture that you are creating since you want a team that can work hard and play hard together!

Can you share your strategy or leadership approach in working with the EDR executive team?

The two most important things are as follows: First, have clear common goals. For us, that is to generate $1 billion per year in benefits for the State. Second, create a management team environment where everything comes to the table and the team solves problems together. There is no us and them (no IT vs. business or State vs. Vendor talk) and no hidden agendas, it is all about how to solve problems together to meet our objectives.

Can you talk about your background and the career path that led to you becoming the CIO of the Franchise Tax Board?

Sure, I came out of college with a degree in accounting and quickly got my CPA. After ten years in the audit field, my boss came to me and said we’d like you to work with this FTB program (that I knew nothing about and knew only one person on the staff) where there were issues. In this assignment, I got to work with IT systems and found that I really like this. I took different assignments to learn about all three major FTB program–Filing, Audit and Collections–and assignments in our Technology area. I think my business background and understanding the needs of the business since I have “walked a mile in those shoes” at some point in my career really prepared me for the role of CIO. Also, my project experience on successful FTB projects such as our Nonfiler Compliance System, CalFile and ReadyReturn and working on the Child Support Project (CCSAS) with the Department of Child Support Services gave me great experience for the CIO role.

What advice would you give someone who aspires to have your job 10 years from now?

I would say develop the following skills and be known for: Your leadership skills, your communication skills, and your ability to solve business problems. I believe that department directors want CIOs who can help them solve their hardest problems. Being CIO, you have a lot to offer if you have the leadership and communication skills to talk like a business person and build a strong business case to solve problems.

Bill Maile was editor of Techwire from 2011 to 2016.