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Techwire One-on-One: DMV CIO on Legacy Modernization, Procurement

Rico Rubiono, chief information officer for the California Department of Motor Vehicles and deputy director of its Information Services Division, discusses the department's ongoing tech modernization, how his role has changed, his favorite projects and how procurement might be improved.

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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 leaders.

Rico Rubiono is chief information officer for the California Department of Motor Vehicles and deputy director of its Information Systems Division (ISD). In this dual role, he is leading the department’s ongoing technological modernization, helping shape its increased focus on meeting customers where they are; and grappling with challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the Oct. 1, 2021 Real ID deadline. Rubiono was elevated to CIO on Dec. 19, 2016 by former Director Jean Shiomoto – bringing with him 25 years of ISD experience. His previous positions include serving as deputy director of the Communications Programs Division and as branch chief of ISD's Information Technology Services Branch. Rubiono is a graduate of DMV's Executive Leadership Academy.

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?

Rubiono: In recent years, the role of CIO at DMV has drastically changed from a support role to a strategic business partner. As a change agent, my focus is on how we can strategically position our IT organization to be more flexible, adaptable and responsive to meet the needs of our business partners and the customers/public while looking ahead on how we can leverage innovations in technology.

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

Rubiono: Currently we are working with the directorate and other deputy directors (other divisions within DMV) in rejuvenating our department strategic plan. Using the results of the department strategic plan as a foundation, I will be working with the division IT managers on the development and implementation of our IT Strategic Plan.

Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming in 2020? What sorts of RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Rubiono: Currently, we are continuing in our work on the legacy modernization effort. Our back-end legacy mainframe was written in the ’60s (Assembler and COBOL) and front-end (EDL) was written in the ’80s and (is) in dire need of replacement due to the technology end of life/support and staff retirements. Also, in response to COVID-19, we are currently working to make the majority of our services available through the Internet, and utilizing Platform-as-a-Service tools through the generally available market. Another large effort that we are undertaking is modernizing our network infrastructure by upgrading our outdated statewide (multi-protocol label switching) MPLS network connections to (Software-Defined Wide Area Network) SD-WAN technology, providing enterprise wireless, replacing our outdated desktop workstations to laptop, migrating some of our on-prem server into the cloud technology, utilizing Robotic Process Automation (RPA), etc.

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?

Rubiono: Basically, digital transformation is the process of using digital tools and technology to improve or modernize existing processes. This process involves establishment of, or even replacing archaic, slow, tedious, often manual processes, with easier, efficient, and often automated processes. At DMV, we are at the infancy state of that process. With Real ID and COVID-19, we have accelerated that process tremendously thanks to the governor, Legislature, and DMV executive leadership for their guidance and support of the department. At this time, I cannot predict when we will be finished with the department digital transformation effort. Continuous development and improvement is a necessity for our department demanded by our customers (public and business partners).

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

Rubiono: This fiscal year, our estimated IT budget is around $150 million and ISD consists of approximately 500-plus IT employees. The department budget is over $1 billion and consists of approximately 9,000 employees serving approximately 180-plus field offices.

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?

Rubiono: There are so many vendors contacting my office and it is overwhelming to review all of them. My preference is that vendors do their background research about DMV (by visiting our website) and what we do as a department and then offer a use case that will fit within our department mission. Please ensure that you are familiar with our procurement process and are certified to do business in California.

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

Rubiono: There were so many projects that we have been able to accomplish throughout the years. We are proud of all the products and services that we produce to serve the state of California public. To name a few:

  1. Real ID implementation (federal mandate to re-credential California residents).
  2. Motor Voter (legislative mandate to change from opt-in to opt-out for California residents to register to vote).
  3. Temporary license plate.
  4. Chatbot, Live Chat, (customer relationship management) CRM.
  5. Self-service kiosk available at DMV and other convenient locations.
  6. Credit card use in the Field Office.
  7. MPLS upgrade to SD-WAN.
  8. Virtual Field Office.
Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Rubiono: (Being) more open to competition and not so cumbersome makes it easier to acquire new technology. We are currently working with the California Department of Technology (CDT), exploring the invitation to negotiate venue and vendor day concept.

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

Rubiono: I stay current with technology developments and concepts through Gartner, Techwire, and of course the local news.

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

Rubiono: Before this job and while my children were in school, I enjoyed practicing and teaching martial arts with my son and daughter. Travel and sightseeing to different beaches in California are my current hobbies, but taking COVID-19 precautions, I had to stop that too. I enjoy reading Tom Clancy espionage and military-science story lines when I have some downtime; currently, I’m reading Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems Before They Happen, by Dan Heath.

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