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.
Thomas Boon has been the chief information officer for the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) for more than seven years, overseeing and managing the office’s IT services, projects and software development. He came up through the technical side of the IT sector, having begun his career with the state in 1997 as an associate programmer analyst (specialist) with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR). He worked with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CAL FIRE) for about a year, and then held a series of increasingly responsible roles within CDCR — staff programmer analyst, senior programmer analyst and software engineer/technical architect — before being named GO-Biz CIO in September 2013. Boon studied computer science at California State University, Sacramento and received his bachelor’s degree in international relations from the University of San Diego. He is also an alumnus of the state’s IT Leadership Academy (ITLA).
Techwire: As CIO of the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development, how do you describe your role — and how have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?
Boon: In September 2013, I was the first full-time IT staff hired at GO-Biz. My task was to build out the GO-Biz IT program. In the beginning, GO-Biz relied heavily on the California Department of Technology (CDT) and the Governor’s Office for support. CDT graciously loaned GO-Biz some application development staff, and the Governor’s Office provided network and desktop support. The environment felt very much like a startup. New GO-Biz programs were created and the brand new GO-Biz IT program was tasked with developing solutions in a matter of months, not years. It was hectic, exciting, and my role was similar to that of a chief technology officer (CTO). My focus was GO-Biz products and services. My previous experience as an application architect at CDCR was useful in developing the GO-Biz technology roadmap. During this time, we hired additional application development staff, continued to develop online tax incentive applications, and launched new websites for GO-Biz, the California Film Commission, and the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (IBank).
My role shifted to include an internal focus in October 2018 when GO-Biz created its own network. In addition to my CTO-type responsibilities, my role evolved to include the responsibilities of a standard CIO, focusing on operational activities, process improvement and budget management. Today, I function as a combination of a CTO and CIO. Now, my primary role is to make sure that GO-Biz’s technology strategy serves its business strategy.
Techwire: How big a role do you personally play in writing your organization’s strategic plan?
Boon: As a member of GO-Biz senior staff, I am directly involved with the organization’s strategic plan. A large portion of GO-Biz programs possess an IT component. My role is to ensure that IT supports GO-Biz’s business models and outcomes.
Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming from GO-Biz? What sorts of RFPs should we be watching for?
Boon: Continued improvement of the GO-Biz cybersecurity posture: GO-Biz infrastructure and services have grown rapidly during the past year. This growth, combined with most of the office working from home, has increased the need for an enhanced cybersecurity posture. We are fortunate to have expert-level staff who continue to improve the GO-Biz security posture. We are regularly evaluating new methods and tools to ensure that GO-Biz has taken appropriate measures to secure all GO-Biz products and services. We are specifically focused on DevSecOps and Zero-Trust security at the moment.
Workflow automation: We are identifying business processes within our organization that can be automated and made more efficient through workflow automation. Processes that require review, approval and digital signatures are prime candidates to be automated.
Artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML) and robotic process automation (RPA): We have AI, ML and RPA implemented in our CRM and cloud environments. Now, we are seeking project opportunities to increase our ability to provide services, assistance and information to our external users.
Techwire: How do you define “digital transformation?” How far along is your organization toward digital transformation?
Boon: Digital transformation is an evolving process that is more than just the implementation of new technologies. This process is never truly done. Digital transformation is a foundational change in how an organization performs, operates and delivers value. Beyond technology, digital transformation is an exercise in leadership and change management that often requires a change in culture.
Because GO-Biz is a relatively new office, applications and data are not restricted by legacy systems. GO-Biz started from day one with a digital services emphasis. GO-Biz adopted cloud technology before I arrived in 2013. All GO-Biz applications are hosted in the cloud. In 2018, GO-Biz established its own network, moved most of its infrastructure into the cloud, and adopted cloud-based virtual desktops. We are currently in the process of moving the on-premise GO-Biz VoIP phone system into a cloud-based phone system. As we continue to migrate products and services to the cloud, we are able to increase our organizational agility. Several years ago, our focus was to create applications and resources to assist current and future businesses with their business-related needs. GO-Biz currently has 16 public-facing applications that provide a wide variety of digital services. The focus for the near future is to simplify and consolidate many of these services to make it easier for users to find the information they need when they need it. If you were to look at GO-Biz digital transformation from a maturity model perspective, I would say that GO-Biz is in the “Optimized” phase, working towards the “Integrated” phase.
Techwire: How many employees are in your IT organization? Is it growing?
Boon: Currently, GO-Biz IT has 11 employees. This past year we hired seven new staff. The GO-Biz IT team consists of two cloud engineers/architects, two application developers, three web developers, three network/desktop support staff, and the CIO. The GO-Biz IT team has demonstrated excellence over the years by building custom solutions to support GO-Biz incentive, grant and business assistance programs. Our custom solutions have allowed us to maximize program specific functionality, reduce overall cost and release solutions in a short amount of time. Our developers have a code library that is the foundation for many of our solutions. This results in an average time of six months to build and release new GO-Biz apps. During the past year, GO-Biz has released the following applications/websites:
- California Film Commission Film Permit System
- Community Reinvestment Grants Program
- Cannabis Equity Grants for Local Jurisdictions
- Small Business Grant Portal
- New GO-Biz website
- New IBank website
The IT team we have assembled at GO-Biz is a special combination of high-performing technical staff with a passion for public service. We feel fortunate to have such a team at GO-Biz.
Techwire: What is the estimated IT budget for GO-Biz? Is that different from the IT budget for the entire organization? If yes, what is the overall budget?
Boon: The total GO-Biz budget including the California Film Commission, California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank, Office of the Small Business Advocate, California Travel and Tourism, and Community Reinvestment Grants Program is $174,138,000. The IT budget is less than five percent of the total budget.
Techwire: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors? What should they know about you before they reach out?
Boon: I prefer to be contacted by email rather than being cold-called. I am also frequently contacted through LinkedIn, which also works for me. Typically, I schedule meetings with vendors on Wednesdays. At a minimum, vendors should go to business.ca.gov to get basic information about GO-Biz. I enjoy most vendor meetings. The meetings provide an opportunity for me to see the latest technology products and solutions. In many cases, it is also an opportunity for me to provide information to vendors about doing business with the state of California.
Techwire: Have you had any transactions or contracts with vendors in the past six to 12 months that were especially successful? Please elaborate.
Boon: Yes, we hired an application developer to assist with the CFC Film and Television Tax Credit 3.0 project. This project involved updating the user interface to use the current state template, some minor calculation changes and other tax credit program related changes. This was a small, but successful contract.
Techwire: In your tenure to date, which project or achievement are you most proud of?
Boon: There are two projects that I want to highlight. Both have been influential in how GO-Biz operates and provides value.
Establishing the GO-Biz Network: The project began in March 2018 and the network went live in October 2018. This was a true collaborative effort between GO-Biz and the Governor’s Office IT staff. This project included the following:
- On-premise Exchange to O365 migration
- File server migration to cloud-based storage
- Cloud-based desktop computer implementation
- Full equipment refresh — replaced desktop computers with laptops
- Network configuration
I am proud of this project because it was completed in half the amount of time for half the budget of the next-best alternative. This project positioned GO-Biz ahead of the curve and enabled GO-Biz staff to work from anywhere if needed. IT allowed GO-Biz to go 100 percent telework in March with a minor amount of equipment cost and no additional network or license expenditures.
California Competes Tax Credit Application: This was my first project at GO-Biz. It started in October 2013 and launched in March 2014. This online application for the California Competes Tax Credit program was the first online tax credit application offered by any state. When it was launched, other “rival” states were still using paper-based applications that had to be mailed into their economic development office. To date, the California Competes Tax Credit program has awarded tax credits to 1,085 businesses and businesses have committed to create 117,000 full-time jobs. The first two versions were developed in collaboration with CDT. The application code is the foundation for all GO-Biz tax incentive and grant management applications. I am proud of this project because it continues to provide value and has served as the foundation for many other successful GO-Biz applications.
Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?
Boon: I think everyone would like to make IT procurement simpler. At GO-Biz, IT procurements are not a problem and are completed in a reasonable amount of time. We are looking to automate the process, reduce the amount of paper documents involved and create an end-to-end workflow for IT procurement.
Techwire: Do you have a “digital hero,” either in the public or the private sector?
Boon: Kim Scott, author of Radical Candor. Her experiences at Google, Apple, and her own company, Juice, have given her the wisdom to become an effective leader. She has worked with many top technology leaders, and I really like her ideas on how to be an effective leader of high-performing teams.
Techwire: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the gov tech sector?
Boon: I read Techwire, Government Technology*, and the Association for Computing Machinery Digital Newsletter regularly. I also listen to the following podcasts: CXO Talk: Leadership, Innovation, Disruption; The Brookings Cafeteria; Government Information Security Podcast; and Federal Tech Talk.
Techwire: Can you tell us about your family and your hobbies? What was the last book you read?
Boon: Family: I come from a family of public servants. My mother and father are both retired state employees. My brother works at FTB (Franchise Tax Board) and sister at CDCR.
Hobbies: I enjoy cycling. I ride in century and double-century rides. I played and coached soccer for over 30 years. I currently play competitive cornhole. I aspire to play at the professional level sometime soon.
*Government Technology magazine is a publication of e.Republic, which also produces Techwire.
Editor’s note: This interview has been lightly edited for style and brevity.