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Techwire One-on-One: Department of Aging CTO on Role, Process Projects

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This story is limited to Industry Insider — California members.
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As part of Techwire’s ongoing efforts to inform readers about state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT and cybersecurity leaders.

John Painting is chief technology officer at the California Department of Aging, a position he has held since January 2021. He was previously chief information officer at the California Board of State and Community Corrections, a position he held for nearly four years. Prior to that, Painting was technical lead/business analyst at the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development from December 2009-March 2017. Before joining the state, Painting was IT systems/network manager at InsWeb Corp. for more than nine years.

Painting’s education includes a Bachelor of Science degree in information systems management from the University of Maryland College Park and a Master of Science degree in human resource management from Chapman University.

Techwire: As chief technology officer of your organization, how do you describe your role; and how has the role of the CTO changed in recent years?

Painting: I see the role of the CTO as being one of a facilitator and enabler, removing obstacles and creating an environment where all our talented IT professionals in state government can be successful. A CTO needs to have a broad understanding of everything from available technological solutions to business goals, and align IT initiatives between the two areas.

Techwire: What big technology initiatives or projects are coming in 2022? What sort of RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Painting: Many of our hardware upgrade and modification projects are just being completed. I think in 2022 we will be embarking on multiple “process” projects designed to improve and enhance the quality of service which we provide to our stakeholders, both internal and external. There will likely be a consolidation of our many siloed support/client applications into a comprehensive CRM (customer relationship management) system as well as development and implementation of automated workflows wherever they could provide a benefit. We are also committed to continue moving applications, servers, and systems into a cloud-based environment.
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Techwire: How do you define “digital transformation,” and how far along is your organization in that process? How do you know when it’s finished?

Painting: To me, digital transformation is the effective use of new, improved, and scalable digital technologies/solutions to provide for, and facilitate, ongoing process improvements within an organization. These improvements can span the full spectrum of the organizations’ products, processes, and structures resulting in a more flexible, responsive, and capable operation.

Digital transformation is the path to follow to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing business environment. Business needs and requirements of an organization are more quickly identified and addressed by leveraging the vast improvements and availability or leading-edge digital technologies. The California Department of Aging has been proactive at anticipating future needs of the department and its stakeholders and has numerous exciting transformation initiatives underway.

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

Painting: I’m certainly more open and responsive if I believe a vendor has conducted some research into our organization and processes and can provide some linkage between their product or service and the organization’s functions and needs. Even understanding the department’s mission and vision can go a long way in establishing a relationship. I prefer receiving emails rather than unsolicited phone calls. Occasionally I will be contacted through LinkedIn, which I am not opposed to.

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

Painting: I have been with Department of Aging for (a year). During this time, most of my efforts have been dedicated in supporting and facilitating the move of the department’s physical location to a new facility. Technically, a rather complex task, we were able to successfully migrate our information technology infrastructure with no downtime, disruption of service or loss of business continuity. In the process we made significant improvements to our IT infrastructure, hardware, applications and processes. I’m most proud of our IT team that planned and executed the work. They worked tirelessly and professionally through the entire arduous process. I could not have dreamed of a better result.

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

Painting: Procurement can be a slow process. This last year has been a particularly challenging time for procurement as supply chain issues have at times made it difficult to procure needed products in a timely manner. The procurement process is somewhat rigid, though I do understand the need for control. I think we could benefit by changing the procurement process to provide more flexibility for the system to respond or adapt to environmental uncertainties and provide an off-ramp in certain situations.

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

Painting: I usually stay abreast of technological developments by reading whitepapers I find online, when researching specific areas of interest. Additionally, I enjoy reading online technical publications and journals. I find that one of the best sources of information is simply listening to others in this field. I’ve gained a great deal of knowledge by working collaboratively with other IT professionals throughout state government agencies.

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

Painting: I lead an active life. I run, cycle or swim daily and enjoy participating in organized races. I like the challenge and satisfaction training for and completing endurance events. I’ve completed numerous 100-mile races in the past few years and will be competing in the Grand Union Canal Race, a continuous 145-mile run from Birmingham to London, this June. I will also be participating in Ironman California later in the year, as this past year’s event was canceled. I also spend time working in my woodshop and tending to our garden. The last book I read was Calypso by David Sedaris, one of the few books that kept my interest.

Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.