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Techwire One-on-One: Financial Protection CIO on Changing Role, IT Initiatives

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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.

George Gaborek is the chief information officer for the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation (DFPI), formerly the Department of Business Oversight (DBO), a position he has held since July 2013. A 20-year state veteran, Gaborek began his service there when he joined the California Energy Commission in 2001. He previously served as CIO for the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI), starting in 2010. Gaborek has a bachelor’s degree in economics from the University of California, Davis and an associate science degree in electronics from Sacramento City College.

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?

Gaborek: I see the CIO role within the state’s information technology organizations continually evolving. When I became the CIO at DFI back in 2010, we focused primarily on overseeing the department’s information technology resources and staff; building a reliable, efficient, and robust network infrastructure; and developing and implementing custom application systems with a heavy emphasis on project management. Although, these CIO role functions may remain today, my role has evolved from mainly focusing on “keeping the lights on” to building stronger relationships and becoming true strategic business partners with the department’s programs. Establishing these partnerships between IT and the business programs has led to greater communication, transparency, collaboration, clarity and opportunities to ensure that the appropriate technologies are being delivered to meet the department’s mission and strategic goals while continuing to provide the necessary services to our customers and stakeholders. Another thing that has changed in recent years is the focus on cybersecurity because of the increased number of security attacks aimed at government entities. As Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.”

I also believe that continual policy and procedure changes from the state’s information technology governing organizations, such as a department’s agency and the California Department of Technology (CDT), have greatly changed the role and responsibilities of the CIO. State CIOs are not only responsible for developing and maintaining technology services, internal policies and data security for their departments, they are responsible for adhering to and implementing the strategies and policies set forth by the state’s governing bodies. I think you can truly say that today’s state CIOs are better-equipped to meet their objectives by having these policies and procedures in place, and having the expertise and support of their agency information officers readily available, along with support from the policies and guidance of the CDT.

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

Gaborek: I currently serve on the department’s Strategic Plan committee which is finalizing its four-year Strategic Plan for 2021-2024. With the recent enactment of Assembly Bill 1864, the California Consumer Financial Protection Law, DFPI added a new Consumer Financial Protection (CFP) division, and a new Office of Financial Technology Innovation. This has expanded the department’s regulatory oversight of nonlicensed financial businesses and companies to strengthen and provide financial protection to all California consumers. With the enactment of AB 1864 and the passing of AB 107 (Sept. 29, 2020), changing the department’s name from the Department of Business Oversight to the Department of Financial Protection and Innovation, a new strategic plan has been developed, with guidance from the commissioner and executive team members. My role, as an executive team member and strategic plan contributor, was to advise, guide and raise awareness of the relevance and critical role technology plays in all departmental strategic business goals.

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?

Gaborek: I anticipate that new projects and/or procurements will arise from DFPI’s new CFP division and its new Debt Collector and New Covered Persons programs once their business processes and procedures are fully established. Recently, DFPI released an RFP to upgrade its online self-service portal, which will entail a complete redesign that will provide consumers and businesses a convenient and secure way to electronically acquire and request departmental services and information, and to accommodate any regulatory requirement submissions. We are also currently adding a software-defined wide area network (SD-WAN) to the department’s network architecture. Along with SD-WAN, we are increasing our network bandwidth to better support the increase in the department’s remote workforce. Additionally, there are planned IT security projects and procurements forecast for the current fiscal year.

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?

Gaborek: From my perspective, digital transformation is our ability to implement new technologies or modify existing technologies to adapt to new or changing business processes, cultures and environments so that the department can fulfill its mission to provide efficient and secure services to its customers, stakeholders and external partners. The way I see it, digital transformation is an ongoing process that needs to be constantly monitored, analyzed and reassessed. In essence, I see digital transformation as a continual process with no end. The COVID-19 pandemic is an example of how the state’s work environment and culture can change quickly, and digital transformation strategies and opportunities have been, and will continue to be, in the forefront as we plan and implement better, more efficient and convenient services to our customers.

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

Gaborek: For Fiscal Year 2021-22, our IT budget is around $14.7 million, which includes software, hardware, maintenance and personnel costs. Currently, our IT organization is comprised of 50 IT professionals. The department’s overall operational budget for FY 21-22 is around $132 million. DFPI currently has 693 authorized positions for FY 21-22.

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?

Gaborek: My preferred method of vendor contact is by email. Despite receiving a large number of vendor emails, when I have the time, I try to research their products and/or services to see if they match our IT operational architecture and strategic goals. If I can provide any insight to the vendor community, I think it’s important for vendors to research our department first to better understand its mission, before reaching out to me. Additionally, it would be best for potential vendors to understand the state’s procurement process and the benefits of having their products and/or services listed and certified through the state’s leveraged procurement vehicle.

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

Gaborek: It is difficult for me to identify one project but, one of the most challenging projects I was involved in, and one that doesn’t involve the successful development and implementation of a new system, is the Governor’s Reorganization Plan 2 (GRP 2). As part of the GRP 2 in 2013, DFI and the Department of Corporations merged to become DBO. The coordination of IT activities, including the development of a new department website, development of a new IT network architecture and infrastructure, and consolidation of administrative systems and workforce was quite challenging, and took the coordinated efforts of the department’s commissioner, executive team, vendors and CDT service engineers. The GRP 2 effort was the most rewarding achievement for me and my IT team and, because of its success, our recent change to DFPI, with added divisions and responsibilities, is proving much easier and less stressful for the IT team to accomplish.

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

Gaborek: For me, having experienced state IT procurements for the past 20 years, I applaud both the California Department of General Services and CDT for making great strides in improving the state’s procurement processes. If I could improve one area, I would streamline the state’s process to greatly reduce the time from process initiation to delivery it takes to receive a product or service.

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

Gaborek: LOL, I really look forward to taking my workday morning break with a hot cup of java and a dose of Techwire reading. Other publications I enjoy reading when I have the time include GovTech Now.*

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

Gaborek: Although I’m approaching my golden years and dealing with a few of the physical ailments that come with age, I do enjoy playing basketball with a group of former coworkers every week. I also enjoy trying to get a round of golf in with my son whenever I have the time. Nowadays, it’s been difficult for me to find the time to read as much as I would like. The last book I read was recommended and provided by the department’s former Commissioner Manny Alvarez, Radical Candor by Kim Scott. I highly recommend this read for those that are interested in learning and taking a different approach to managing people.

*The GovTech Now newsletter is produced by Government Technology magazine, a sister publication to Techwire.

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