One-on-one with Okla. CIO Alex Pettit


Written by

Oklahoma Chief Technology Officer Alex Pettit sat down with StateScoopTV to talk about best practices for cost savings, IT workforce development, increasing efficiency in state IT, procurement and metrics for smarter government.

Below are some edited highlights from Pettit’s interview:

“By bringing together all of the agencies, and all the IT people into a common group, we’re able to address things cohesively, using all the assets and all the capabilities, all the resources, that the state possesses. In a lot of cases, with a lot of organizations, we have an enormous number of resources, but in many instances they simply go underutilized. It’s not that we’ve done this deliberately. In our practice of IT, when we procure something we tend to over-provision at the time of procurement. So it doesn’t matter if it’s storage or it’s network or it’s compute power or whatever it is, we’ll go through and we’ll buy more to grow into it. Well, when you do that 132 instances separately, that’s a lot of over-provisioning. So what we’ve found is, we’re able to bring together all these resources under one organization, one environment and then we can comprehensively address needs just using what we’ve already got. So it’s been an enormous cost-savings for the state. It’s helped us a great great deal.”

“We’ve done a lot of things as far as moving people from being IT generalist to being IT specialists. So that’s helped a great deal – it brings a great deal of efficiency.

“They’ve gone from being one member of a group of say 10 or 12 to an agency of 1,000 people. So now, we have the opportunity to specialize so that we can go through and find out what their skills are and they can find out, they can articulate, a preference for doing something and we can let them focus on just security or just database administration or just application development or just networking and that not only improves the quality of the service for all of us, but it gives that person, that individual, the opportunity to hone their skills.

“[R]eally, more than anything, it has been the establishment of metrics that have been the biggest source of improvement for us. So if you go to, and you look at our performance metrics, you’ll see we’ve got dashboards of performance metrics available and you can even drill it all the way down to the individual. We have the capability to see the individual performance. So the reason that’s so helpful is because a lot of times in states, this isn’t just true in states, the single greatest determinant of human behavior is feedback. So what you get back from doing something is what determines what you do next. In government, we have limits as to what we can provide for money or for advancement or for or things like this, but one of the things that we can and ought to do is be able to give honest and routine feedback to our employees and a lot of times in IT we fail to do that. So metrics, and the dashboards and the real-time presentation of information gives them feedback in the current state and that’s enormously important because, more importantly than money or even some other things that are human motivators, feedback is, I believe, the greatest motivator to anyone and that’s the thing we need the most.”

“I’m kind of reminded of that Dos Equis commercial, ‘I don’t often test my code, but when I do, I do it in production.’

“When we’re bringing in new things, in most instances right now it’s driven by what the user perceives to be the thing that they’ve seen somewhere either at a trade show or at … somewhere … that they’ve seen on TV, iPad, iPhone … whatever that is, whatever the new technology is, and unfortunately, we’ve not gone far enough through the transformation that we really understand requirements in the broader sense.

“Right now our focus in consolidation is on getting the processes down correctly for doing requirements in a narrow sense, but to bring in and to really transform government to be able to bring things in, let’s say use-cases for how to use big data, as we are able to amalgamate data sets from education and from entitlement insurance and from all of our different programs and services that the state offers, as we’re able to bring that together, being able to identify use cases that then transform the business of government, that’s one of those things that we’re just on the very embryonic stages of. … Once we’ve got our needs identified, our customer needs identified, then we’re really going to make big changes in government. We can come up with use-cases that will be prescriptive in nature, that we can actually come up with data analysis that’s not just predictive, but is actually prescriptive.

“We need to make that pivot to being prescriptive in how we do things. So when we talk about new technologies, and bringing new technologies in, it comes down to fundamentally understanding what the agency mission, vision and what outcomes are they trying to accomplish and then we can say ‘Well you  know what, we can help you with that. This is how we can develop a use-case that’ll amalgamate data from here, here and here that tells you something you  had no idea before going on and save lives or improves the quality of life or transforms the way government works.”

-In this Story-

Alex Pettit, Oklahoma, States