Amid a surging pandemic that has ravaged the livelihoods of millions of Californians, and as the state struggles to fix flaws in the unemployment claims system, the state Department of Technology (CDT) has released its strategic plan. It envisions “easy-to-use, accessible and reliable public services that are ready and available wherever and whenever needed,” according to state Chief Information Officer Amy Tong.
With three guiding principles — put people first, continuous, timely improvement, and working together beats working alone — Vision 2023 lays out five goals:
- Deliver clear, fast, secure and dependable public services
- Ensure public services are equitable and inclusive
- Make common technology easy to use, access, share and reuse across government
- Build digital government more quickly and effectively
- Build confident, empowered multidisciplinary teams
Released alongside the 2020 CDT annual report and the California Broadband Action Plan, Vision 2023 was developed through a process that engaged consumers, state employees on the frontline, vendors and other stakeholders to ensure that every user’s experience is taken into account, said CDT Chief Strategist Justin Cohan-Shapiro, who led Vision 2023.
“Twenty or 30 years ago state tech was about running services and provisioning hardware,” he said. “Now it is the underpinning of how we deliver government services, whether it’s paying your taxes or getting a driver’s license. The reality is that everyone has an interest in the way we use, design and build it, and we need to make sure they understand it and bring them along.”
Vision 2023 lists several challenges for each goal, put in the form of questions. For Goal #1, for example: “What must we do to ensure critical public services and technology infrastructure are ready for surges, and are resilient and dependable?”
But Vision 2023 does not address how the challenges, like the surge in unemployment cases in 2020 which exposed vast inefficiencies in the state’s antiquated system designed to process claims, might be overcome nor does it list specific initiatives. Instead, the report invites feedback and asks people to join teams and work together as “leaders, doers or advisors” to solve the challenges, which are housed on GitHub to allow the broader technology community to engage in the process, Cohan-Shapiro said.
State Assembly Member Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), whose Internet for All Act of 2021 would extend and expand funding for broadband connectivity in underserved areas, said she was pleased to see the issue included as part of Goal #2 in Vision 2023. Although she has championed broadband for many years, she said the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the profound impact of inequitable access as industry, education and other services moved online.
“The inequities raised their ugly head, and we realized how many don’t have access for distance learning, jobs, small businesses and health care,” she said. (The administration) understands the frustrations. They realize the importance of having access to the internet and are very interested in getting something done this year.”
Cohan-Shapiro did not discuss in detail specific challenges or potential solutions but said the gaps exposed during the pandemic, wildfires and other crises have informed the planning process. And he said the state’s response to the crises has demonstrated that it can quickly innovate, even working remotely, to address immediate needs of consumers and government through collaborative, often experimental approaches to problems.
While planning and prioritization are critical in achieving the state’s goals to modernize its technology, he said, velocity is equally important. Rather than invest $1 billion in the overhaul of a system that could fail or become obsolete before it goes online, he said, the state should be able to innovate, test for functionality and quickly create something that can be improved continuously.
That process, he said, needs to be equitable and inclusive, to be effective.
“The more voices we have building our technology that reflect and look like the rest of the state, the better we can meet the moment when it matters most,” he said.