Virginia Department of Social Services Transforms Technology Systems

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After over 22 months of effort, the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS) is beginning to see the impacts of their aggressive IT modernization initiatives.

BY ROLAND RIVERA, DEPUTY COMMISIONER FOR TECHNOLOGY/CIO Virginia Department of Social Services / November 2021

With a proven track record of transforming organizations from coast to coast, Roland Rivera has again taken the challenge to modernize another organization. Appointed recently as the Deputy Commissioner for Technology and Chief Information Officer for the Virginia Department of Social Services (VDSS), Roland has embarked on an ambitious plan to unify and transform VDSS IT, enhancing agency support for some of the most vulnerable population across the Commonwealth of Virginia.

With a staff of 200 IT professionals supporting 13,000 social services staff, VDSS is one of the largest Commonwealth agencies that partners with 120 local departments of social services to promote the well-being of children and families statewide. Roland, a career IT professional with 36 years of federal and state experience, accepted the challenge to upgrade IT services to meet 21st century needs. Embarking on an arduous journey of unification and modernization across the entire spectrum of IT services, he unified three existing IT groups operating in a silo, and coordinated with industry leaders and universities to design a new IT Services organization consisting of 200 IT staff across five Divisions.Roland-Rivera

Once the new organization was created, Roland borrowed from Federal CIO Guidelines for IT Modernization to create a baseline, define a strategy, build a roadmap, and finally implement structured initiatives.

Step 1 – Conduct a Benchmark Assessment: In order to develop a formal benchmark, Roland and team conducted a self-assessment to identify service gaps and provide a baseline for all IT services. This effort included an evaluation of existing agency products, services, and projects. Quickly assessing that project portfolio management was nonexistent, Roland made it a priority to determine the size and scope of agency project initiatives and associated capacity. The benchmark assessment across all IT Divisions was documented in the agency IT Strategic plan.

Step 2 – Define a Strategy: The next step was to address the strategy for a future state of IT. IT Services took great effort to ensure the evolving IT strategy could trace back to VDSS business goals, objectives, and strategies. The IT Services team coordinated with leading industry consultants, state IT professionals, and Federal partners to determine technology trends. After exhaustive research, VDSS selected a low code application platform (LCAP) approach that was incorporated into the VDSS reference blueprint architecture. The resulting IT strategic plan outlined the business environment, existing IT services, and the strategy for a future state. Specific IT objectives were presented to all IT staff, the CFO, and the Executive Team. This deliberate process facilitated strong collaboration between business leaders and the IT staff, significantly improved customer service, and demonstrated the value that could be created by the Information Technology Services team.

Step 3 – Build a Roadmap: This next step began by referencing the business needs, then developing a plan to achieve the strategy defined in Step 2. As part of this step, Roland and his team also created a centralized Project Management Office (PMO) and implemented IT governance via an IT Investment Council to provide oversight and prioritization for all IT initiatives. This allowed implementation of standardized project management best practices as defined by the Project Management Institute.

Step 4 – Implement Structured Initiatives: With the foundation set, IT Directors began to upgrade IT Services using a people, process, and technology approach. A reference blueprint architecture was developed by the Chief Enterprise Architect, and an IT Operating Model to transition from strategy to production was implemented. A series of strategic projects were initiated to commence the actual transformation. A new Network Operations Security Center was built to detect, alert, and respond to all enterprise disruptions. Multiple IT frameworks were rolled out to ensure consistency of process across various IT teams. These initiatives coupled with the migration to an LCAP environment is without a doubt the most complex set of IT initiatives ever undertaken by VDSS. It could not have been undertaken without a structured transformation from chaos to order.

The IT transformation is still ongoing; however, the progress made over the last 22 months has garnered statewide and national attention. While the transformation success can be easily attributed to the use of best practices and state-of-the-art tools, a deeper analysis points to the criticality of developing an overarching vision, and highlights the value of the 21st century CIO, who has become a multifaceted professional adept in a full spectrum of skills, including business and finance, technology, human relations, and organizational change. Using a vast toolkit of expertise, these modern CIOs can engage an organization to bring about lasting and fundamental change.

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