Techwire One-on-One: Child Support Services CIO on Move to Cloud, Working With Business

“We are focused on being a true business partner; we have to work side by side with our executives and peers if we’re going to move business forward. Because it’s all about moving the business forward and changing the program with technology,” says Catherine Lanzaro, CIO and deputy director of the Technology Services Division for the California Department of Child Support Services.

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As part of Techwire’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT and cybersecurity leaders.

Catherine Lanzaro has been chief information officer for the California Department of Child Support Services and deputy director of its Technology Services Division since December 2019. She is a veteran state employee with more than 30 years of service, and before becoming CIO, was the department’s branch chief of applications development and testing. Lanzaro has been a DCSS employee since 2009.

Prior to DCSS, Lanzaro was at the state Franchise Tax Board, which she joined in September 1987 in its business area, quickly moving into IT to develop small and then larger applications, before joining DCSS as part of the team that built its statewide system.

Techwire: As CIO of your organization, how do you describe your role; and how have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?

Lanzaro: I feel like the role has really changed quite a bit over the years. It used to be someone who was just really highly technical. They were the oversight of the manager of information technology resources and the employees; and, I feel, kind of siloed. Where technology was on one side, kind of doing their thing and then business was on the other side. Today’s CIO, that’s not what we’re focused on. We are focused on being a true business partner; we have to work side by side with our executives and peers if we’re going to move business forward. Because it’s all about moving the business forward and changing the program with technology.

Techwire: How big a role do you personally play in writing your organization’s strategic plan?

Lanzaro: I actually play a really big role. You know, I’ve heard that people just don’t have a seat at the table, and I don’t have that experience at Child Support Services. Maybe because I’ve been in Child Support for so long; I’m very passionate about the program and our mission and the help that we provide for children and families. So as an executive team, we work together. We worked together to develop the strategic plan, and our goals are really clear. But we allow for change and allow them to evolve, so we’re constantly looking at them to make sure we’re giving simple and secure services to the public. And I think I’m fortunate because my director, David Kilgore, he really values my input and he knows how big of a role technology plays in order for the business to be successful.

This past year in 2020, I’m really very proud of our department because we didn’t allow the pandemic to let us stray from our strategic vision. We instead used all of that new 2020 experience and knowledge gained really to think differently. We navigated through the crisis, did all of that and made sure to re-evaluate our priorities. Because 2020 gave us a lot more knowledge and we used that moving into 2021 and we really work together very well. I guess I feel fortunate because I do read different articles where different CIOs are trying to get a seat at the table and I ... don’t have that problem.

Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming in 2021? What sorts of RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Lanzaro: We have quite a few things on our plate. I love that about our department, because we’re always trying to think of new ways to serve the public and new ways to do automation. One of the biggest items is that we’re in the middle of migrating our ... child support system to the cloud. And right now, it resides at managed services at the (California) Department of Technology (CDT). And they host our application there. That’s a really big move for us, it’s a very exciting move. Moving to the cloud will improve our disaster recovery time frames, it will increase our security and give us more of that on-demand model. Because the business changes. Frequently. They change quick. And we need to be as nimble as they are. One of the greatest things about our cloud project is, we have just had tremendous support from the Health and Human Services Agency. And CDT. It’s really — a lot of departments talk about getting to that cross-department collaborative partnership level. We have that with this project. It’s really great to have such support from all of those partners across the state. And once we’re migrated, which is about the end of 2021 ... we’re excited to be able to offer agency and other departments a ... successful model for large-scale legacy systems moving to the cloud, a road map for staffing skill sets and to share our experience and knowledge that we would have learned from the cloud migration.

Editor’s note: In its migration, Child Support Services is working with Microsoft Azure Government Cloud.

There are two others that I would share. One is security. Of course, keeping data secure, keeping our customers’ privacy is always top priority. But in 2021, we’re really focused on managing that cybersecurity risk and developing a more consistent policy and infrastructure. Especially as we move to the cloud and offer more customer self-service options. And we want to ... change our focus from security compliance to forward-thinking cybersecurity threat detection, vulnerability identification and risk mitigation. So, we ensure protection of assets and customer data. It’s challenging to keep information secure and keep things away from the bad guys, right? And with all the things, with COVID-19 and emergency telework. But really, this area has just never been more crucial for us to focus on.

The third one is, we as a department are exploring opportunities to enhance our existing mobile app in the child support program. ... We’re just in the analysis phase right now, but a new, modern, mobile app. Basically, we want to provide our families more innovative and modern service delivery and more self-service capabilities. It’s something that we had talked about and thrown around for a while, but it became really, really relevant with the pandemic. Because of the statewide impacts of operating restrictions at the county, people couldn’t come into the offices like they did and when they could come into the offices ... you have all the social distancing and so, we know it’s really important to offer flexibility, to assist our parents with their co-parenting efforts. And so, our goal is to provide that mobile app, easy to use and expand our services. That’s really what’s going to help families moving forward. We know that 2020 changed how we’re going to provide those services. People ... want to be free to go about their lives and not have to go into an office to get services. So, we need to modernize in that area and ... the pandemic was difficult for everyone. But it was also pretty wonderful in the sense that it catapulted us in government to do business new ways. We’re taking more risk, working together across the state, using all of our resources across departments. There’s been a lot of good that has come out and helped government with the pandemic as well.

Techwire: How do you define “digital transformation,” and how far along is your organization in that process? How will you know when it's finished?

Lanzaro: I guess I would define it as changing the way we do business today by using digital technology to innovate and transform our services. Essentially, changing our culture and how we operate so we know we’re delivering value for our customers. And then, really making data-driven decisions will lead us to a more modern technology and modern child support program. We are really, at DCSS, just beginning our digital transformation journey. Organizationally, we have an Office of Strategic Planning, which includes organizational change management, program innovation, and a research and data analysis unit. And we are working on just the very beginnings of building a digital transformation strategy. Because we have to form a plan for how we are going to shift ourselves in this new age.

How will I know it’s finished? My answer to that would be ... while the act or the disruption of digital transformation may appear to be done, I would prefer to say we should set success factors instead of focusing on finishing. My opinion is that digital transformation requires us to continuously monitor and actively search for new opportunities so we can redefine customer service, create and deliver value again and again and again. And to me the journey from data discovery doesn’t end, so even when we’re really rooted in the understanding that digital transformation is the new way to do business instead of just technology being there to support the business, I want us to know and still actively allow room for growth. So, I don’t look at it like we’ll ever be finished, which is not a bad thing. We’ll achieve goals, but we’ve got to stay active in that area if we’re really going to continually make progress.

Techwire: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Lanzaro: As of (the) 2020 Budget Act, the Technology Services Division, which is my division, the budget is $84.4 million, and I have 288 budgeted positions in my division. The total DCSS budget is $1 billion and that does include funding for local child support agencies and their operating costs because, of course, our program is administered throughout the state through the local counties.

Techwire: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Lanzaro: I did have a LinkedIn up until maybe, like, six months ago, but I was just getting inundated with really nonrelevant reach-outs. So, I did pause my LinkedIn because I realized as the CIO, I really just preferred direct reach-out via email. I’ve been in the state for a really long time, 33-some-odd years. And in government work, our purpose and drive is a little bit different than that in the private sector. But I really, really value the vendor community — their help, knowledge, their access to resources and their guidance. We’ve had several successful relationships with vendor partners, and so I’m always open and wanting to see how our vendors can partner with us to help us move forward on our initiatives. ... Before requesting to meet with me, I would want them to understand the mission of Child Support Services; read our strategic plan — it’s right there on our website — and be prepared to demonstrate value-added contract services. Either to enhance and modernize the program or technology and the enterprise itself. Because I actively love meeting and working with vendors, but I need it to be relevant and get our money’s worth. I have to pay attention to budget and things like that. Just be ready to know what our business is and how you can help.

Techwire: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Lanzaro: I’m sure I’m not alone when I say that 2020’s greatest achievement was surviving the pandemic. But then, also we thrived a bit during the pandemic as well. I said earlier, we had many initiatives planned for 2020. And so the challenge became, how do we adjust to pandemic-induced remote workforce, provide our normal services to children and families and then still make progress? I’m actually really proud of the work that we’ve done and continue to do, and as the new CIO, I knew that we were going to have to be creative to solve problems. Leading my team, keeping communication in the forefront and maintaining a focus on the future. Because early on, I realized that at some point, we’re going to figure out that new normal in our working environment. And would we want to look back on 2020 with a ‘We just got by’ viewpoint, or would we want to look back and say, ‘Look what we achieved for the program in 2020’? And so, keeping that growth mindset by putting out a lot of fires and adapting to the new way we operated was really how I led the team. And DCSS, they just had some of the most resilient employees in state service. Maybe I’m more fortunate than others, but I just have an incredible team of technologists. I trust them to get the job done; they do it every day. 2020 was no different in that sense. We all worked together to enable the department to telework in record time. Five or six days. It was amazing what they did. We ensured DCSS’ core business continued with very little interruption to our critical services. And then, we kept marching on with our major initiative such as migrating to the cloud. We ended the year pretty much on target with our goals, but the good thing was we took a few more risks than we had in past years, which led to even more efficiencies and more projects getting completed than we had originally planned for. It was really a very unusual and challenging year, but there was a lot of goodness that came out as well.

Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Lanzaro: Well, I’m probably not alone in this either; it would be that there would be more money to invest in the new technologies on the market. IT changes so quickly and even moreso now we are at an accelerated pace. Things come on the market; government is interested in investing in these products and these services, and the state recognizes that technology plays an important role in basically improving our services. But we have limited resources, so we pinch every penny, work with what we can get. But we look forward to doing new things in data analytics and all the changes in infrastructure; it’s really exciting. We’re starting to scratch the surface in these emerging technology trends. But, of course, it’s just more money, and I don’t think I’m alone in that. We have to be lean; we have to be good stewards of the money that we are given and use it wisely. ... Otherwise, I’m pretty satisfied with the procurement process.

Techwire: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the gov tech/SLED sector?

Lanzaro: So, I am a bit of an Internet junkie. I love spending hours upon hours researching online articles, looking at various departments’ strategic plans, going through the governor’s office’s newsroom. I really crave research and learning, and I have my employees, vendors, conferences — just attended a CIO academy. I look at websites, and I get a lot of daily news from Governing, Techwire, (Government Technology).* And then, I’m really starting to get into podcasts. I used to listen to Audible books while driving to work. I like to read articles quickly versus picking up a book. But now, of course, I’m not driving to work, so it’s a little bit different. So, taking walks with a podcast and Audible books is what I do.

Techwire: What are your hobbies, and what do you enjoy reading?

Lanzaro: I’ve been married for 32 years, and I have children and grandchildren, so, really spending time with my family. I love listening to music, all sorts of music. And the biggest thing is that I’m a huge Disney fan. I also volunteer; I’m a costume designer and so I create costumes for local theaters and high school performing arts.

*Governing and Government Technology magazine are publications of e.Republic, which also produces Techwire.