Dr. Christine E. Miller

Dr. Christine E. Miller is the vice president of Information Technology and chief information officer for California State University, Sacramento, having joined the university in September 2014 as associate CIO. Previously, she served as assistant dean and IT executive director for Franklin College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Georgia. Dr. Miller has 20 years of experience working in information technology, academic technology and higher education.

The California State University system has a hybrid procurement model. Some Master Enabling Agreements are negotiated at the system level, and other contracts are initiated at the campus level. Dr. Miller is in the unique position of using today's technology to anticipate the courses that students will want and need tomorrow and next year. Her third-floor office offers her a literal and figurative overview of the campus and the geography beyond its boundaries — and she coined a term related to that: "Siliconfluence." 

As street crews and construction teams swarmed busily over the campus last week, Dr. Miller sat down with Techwire for a chat, after which she responded to several questions via email. Here is that exchange:

Techwire: What are the two or three biggest developments or changes in tech that you foresee in the next few years? And how will those advances affect the California State University System’s procurement practices?

Christine Miller: The pace of technology innovation and adoption continues to accelerate, so it is getting more challenging to calibrate the crystal ball. In the next few years, I anticipate that we will continue to shift to greater use of cloud technologies such as software as a service, infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, etc. Concurrently, we will need to reinvigorate strategies to integrate infrastructure, applications and data that may span multiple clouds as well as on-premise installations. Machine learning will continue to mature, and I think we will start seeing greater use of technologies such as chatbots in customer service and other industries.

TW: If an IT student asked you for the one best reason to work in the public sector after graduation, what would you advise? And what would your answer be if the question were about the private sector?

CM: Working in the public sector is an opportunity to be of service. I am passionate about the mission of education. I believe that education transforms lives and prepares each of us to make our contribution. The intrinsic rewards of public service are astronomical. I think the public sector and private sector can be equally rewarding. Following your passion is the key.

TW: What advice would you give to someone in the IT sales/service sector who wishes to do business with the university? And flipping that around, what advice would you give to someone who works in procurement, either in state government or in higher education?

CM: My advice is “do your homework.” Demonstrate that you’ve made an effort to understand our goals, opportunities and challenges, and gather some information about our procurement processes. It is frustrating to interact with sales representatives who have a scattershot approach. Some technology vendors have become pariahs based on overly aggressive marketing or circumventing the IT organization. State procurement professionals need to engage their constituents, cultivate empathy and avoid making assumptions about requirements and needs.

TW: You used a word in our conversation: “Siliconfluence.” Can you explain what you mean by that?

CM: As you know, Sacramento is situated at the confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers. I coined this term to describe the incredible opportunity we have in the Sacramento region to serve as the epicenter of public sector IT. We are ideally suited to this role based on the economic strength of California, our proximity to Silicon Valley, and our status as the state capital. There are a number of emerging technology innovators in the area, and I think we will see a lot of growth in the next few years. This will create incredible economic development opportunities for the region, and it will also help us attract and retain talented IT professionals. The siliconfluence will also benefit area students through internships, service learning and other programs.

TW: In your 20 years working with IT, what’s the single biggest change you didn’t see coming or that surprised you the most?

CM: I think one of the biggest changes was the transformation of the Internet from a public sector network to a global network characterized by commercialization and user-contributed content. I remember using early web browsers in the early 1990s when most content was static, and the .com domain was non-existent. The Internet felt like a close knit community with a shared sense of stewardship, and those attributes have been lost for the most part. Risk management and information security consume a lot more of my bandwidth than they did 20 years ago. The intersection of IT innovations with sensitive, personally-identifiable information has created a lot of complexity and risk.

TW: What don’t the rest of us see coming in the next 15 to 20 years?

CM: I think that digitalization will occur more rapidly than many expect. We will see a tipping point with autonomous cars and trucks in the next decade. Some industries and services will be eliminated or transformed. We will also see greater application of robotics as well as virtual and augmented reality in all industries. I am hopeful that digitalization will increase the value we place on our humanity and augment the essential connections we have to each other.