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Driving Deployment of IT Operations

Shawn Riley, Chief Information Officer, State of North Dakota
Shawn Riley, Chief Information Officer, State of North Dakota

Shawn Riley, Chief Information Officer, State of North Dakota

At the age of sixteen, Shawn Riley started a technology company. Later in his career he entered the private sector and worked as a thought leader for companies like IBM and the Mayo Clinic. His career has included massive change and transformation initiatives spanning multi billion-dollar organizations. In 2017 Shawn was appointed by Governor Doug Burgum to lead the state of North Dakota’s technology services as the Chief Information Officer. He is always looking to connect with others who have a “we can change the world” attitude as he strives to be a servant leader and improve lives, empower people, and inspire success.

In the light of your experience, could you tell us about how do you deal with the IT operation Management at your organization?

Within our organization, we have a significant operational focus on delivering services comprehensively across the entirety of the seven branches of government, including executive, legislative, and judicial branches. From an operational standpoint, we are still exploring and expanding our services and are adding new systems to the organization. We’re moving towards bringing the Operational Excellence model in our organization. Within this model, we are deploying objectives and key results (OKRs) as a goal driver and the delivery of all these goal drivers is done through a combination of DevOps and continuous improvement models. This is an important structure to help define goals and objectives for the state. With this model, we then track the actual logistics delivery across all the services within our programming teams, CTO’s boundaries, and reinvention boundaries.

What approaches or methodologies do you adopt to identify the right solution providers from the lot?

Given the myriad of IT solution providers present today, we look for a solution provider or organization that understands our varied business challenges, walks us through different business components, and provides us with the right solution to those problems. We always look for solutions that are different from what we already have in the State of North Dakota. Alt. language: We look for partners who can solve real problems from a holistic, citizen-centric approach while enabling service delivery for the citizens. The North Dakota IT team is constantly building partnerships that enable a win-win scenario. From a service standpoint, we want organizations to deliver a substantially better value, based on the way we manage the quality of our services or throughput over expenses. And, we also want our citizens to benefit with the solutions that we deploy. Recently, we’ve partnered with solution providers who are helping us in lowering the overall costs.

Could you elaborate on some interesting and impactful projects/initiatives that you’re currently overseeing?

One of the quintessential initiatives that we are overseeing is the K-20W Initiative, a state-wide, comprehensive approach to cybersecurity education and workforce training. K-20W stands for kindergarten through Ph.D. and workforce, and has a goal of “Every Student. every school. Cyber Educated.” The K-20W Initiative will expand our state’s workforce to limitless potential in the 21st century.

This initiative was started with a whole-of-government, public/private partnership approach where 40 plus organizations are working together to provide computer science and cybersecurity training and resources across all 180 school districts and 11 universities. The state’s Department of Public Instruction, one of our key partners and drivers of this effort was able to develop and implement integrated computer science and cybersecurity standards in only 11 months. This initiative is making a huge impact on our ability to teach computer science and cybersecurity skills to every student including non-traditional students who may be looking for a career change or who have raised families and are looking to get into the workforce. A partnership with Palo Alto Networks and BSC has resulted in the expansion of the college’s cybersecurity and computer networks program, and this is just one example of the groundswell of support we’re seeing and tangible progress towards this goal.

With this initiative, we want our students to be good digital citizens, be more aware of potential cyber-threats and combat them, and be better prepared to safeguard their digital identity. Computer science and cybersecurity skills are absolutely foundational in the digital world so we’re also setting students up for success in a growing, global career field.

What are some of the strategic points that you deploy to steer the organization forward?

We have a big focus on operational effectiveness and ultimately on operational excellence. The other part that we really focus on is continuous improvement, which includes Lean and Six Sigma, the Theory of Constraint and related business process improvement and leadership training. We are implementing these not only in the IT department but also across the entire executive branch.

How do you see the evolution of the IT Operations Management and in value operation space a few years from now with regard to some of its potential disruptions and transformations?

The future of Artificial Intelligence is really the biggest disruptor, unleashing a golden age of IT operations. Knowing that AI is progressing so much faster than mankind ever has, we want to implement AI in places where it hasn’t been used before and get substantial end-point services from it. Also, one of the big transformational initiatives we want to take is to automate 20 percent of our government and change how the government gets work done. We are going to be deploying a billion sensors into our environment. We’re already deploying a state-wide drone radar system, autonomous precision agriculture farms, and are looking for solutions for specific outstanding connectivity issues that will help our state fulfill its potential by harnessing technology to enable industries from agriculture to energy and beyond. Our vision is to have comprehensive broadband and deep data capacity in every quarter of the state. Today, we’re already seeing a huge amount of artificial intelligence, machine learning, and cybersecurity implications in the industry. We also have to position ourselves from an operational standpoint to manage systems in a DevOps environment with a continuous improvement layover to really get to where we want to be. We have to deploy continuously improving operational structure that focuses on getting standardized and automated outcomes.

What would be the single piece of advice that you could impart to a fellow or aspiring professional in your field, looking to embark on a similar venture or professional journey along the lines of your service and area of expertise?

Learn or die. If we don’t engage in continuous learning and embrace a growth mindset, we will fail. In today’s rapidly changing, digital world, we need to continuously expand our knowledge, keep learning and be open to exposure to new things. The world is never going to move this slowly again, so we have to do everything to keep up with the changes.

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