Acting State CTO Ellen Ishimoto

The state’s telecommuting efforts since the COVID-19 restrictions went into effect in March have been so successful that Gov. Gavin Newsom wants roughly 70 percent of state workers to continue working from home once restrictions are eventually lifted, the state’s acting chief technology officer says.

Ellen Ishimoto made the comments Tuesday as part of the two-day online California Virtual Digital Government Summit, presented by Government Technology* magazine.

“It’s been a big transformation. Our plan is to continue teleworking for those employees whose jobs are well-suited for telework, and the governor and the administration are being very supportive. They want us to continue at least 70 percent telecommuting — that’s a huge transition and great leadership vision,” said Ishimoto, who has been the California Department of Technology’s acting CTO since May 2019.

She acknowledged that the state’s decision will have a tremendous impact on commercial office space in downtown Sacramento and elsewhere, noting that the department’s lease downtown is up in July. While CDT had requested additional space in the building before the pandemic hit, the department has now reduced its request and is looking at similar space reductions at the 42,000-square-foot data center campus in Rancho Cordova.

Downsizing office space will lead to increased costs for hardware to allow teleworkers to securely handle sensitive data but will also result in cost savings.

“Do we need all these desk phones?” she asked as one example.

Ishimoto praised the state IT staff and the vendors who helped the state pivot quickly and successfully from office-based to home-based work.

“I want to recognize the incredible effort the state IT community did to support telework in such a short period of time. And we couldn’t have done it without our vendor partners. Their resources were stretched as well, so I really appreciate what they did for us,” she said.

Ishimoto said state IT officials are now transitioning from emergency operations to establishing telework as the new normal. When the shelter-in-place orders first came down, CDT quickly set up telework guidance for employees including really basic information like how to access Microsoft Office 365 in the cloud, but also information about heavily discounted or free products that private industry was offering the state.

“Again, we thank our partners,” she said. The State Telework Guide has now been posted online.

The state Cybersecurity Task Force worked together to rapidly identify vulnerabilities, and she said the Department of General Services is now engaged in a large-scale effort to update telework policy and establish standards and guidelines. That process will take several more months as the standards are being vetted with the public employee unions representing state workers.

Ultimately, Ishimoto said, she was excited about how the COVID-19 crisis forced both the state and private sector to collaborate.

“The biggest lesson from COVID is I’ve seen more collaboration between state departments and in our public-private partnerships than before,” she said. “It sounds corny, but I’ve seen first-hand how we can do creative things and just get it done.

“We saw that (IT) couldn’t do things without the program side of the house. We have to think of the user experience, but it takes both the tech and program sides to think about how to do that. That’s what we need to focus on, rather than focusing on my technology because I love it. I think user experience is the key, and this administration is focused on that.”

*Government Technology and Techwire are among the publications of Folsom-based e.Republic.