NYS CIO Talks Strategy as New Executive Team Takes Shape

Friday August 04, 2017

It's been just over a month since Bob Samson took the reins as the CIO of New York, but there's no hesitation in his voice when he talks about the path ahead for him or the agency he leads.  

Gov. Andrew Cuomo tapped the former IBM man and lifelong New Yorker to head the Office of Information Services (ITS) in late April. Samson (pictured at left), a 36-year veteran of the technology company, was named as state CIO roughly a month after the departure of his predecessor, Maggie Miller, in Feb. 2017.

Since that time, big changes have been taking place at the office's executive level. Some of the more noticeable staffing shifts are the naming of Deborah Snyder as acting chief information security officer, as well as the return of former state CIO Brian Digman to serve as director of ITS, and Karen Geduldig, who was named executive deputy CIO.

Geduldig, who once served as the general counsel for the agency, will replace Mahesh Nattanmai, who accepted a position with the New York Department of Health. Geduldig and Digman started with ITS June 1, and Snyder's announcement was made June 8.

The new energy and return of some veteran staff, Samson explained, is part of keeping up with what he called the "bold" vision of Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the need to keep the services ITS provides relevant and focused on all New Yorkers.

In 2012, Cuomo revamped the state's extremely federated structure forming what is now ITS. The state was formerly a mix of some 37 agency CIOs managing 53 data centers and at least 27 email systems. 

"I think the governor, early on, recognized that that is not a sustainable model," Samson explained. "If you believe that IT is horizontal, that it's transformational and that it needed to be secure, then the old model and old way which we did things in IT was no longer going to work."

Today, ITS is in a much better position to, in Samson's words, deliver "innovation that matters for all New Yorkers." He jokes that it is not only a tagline, but something his agency truly believes in. State systems have been significantly consolidated -- from 53 data centers to two, and from 27 email systems to one, he reports.

And rather than more than three dozen individual CIOs with varying degrees of budget power and autonomy, Samson contends with eight "cluster CIOs," or individuals put in charge of specific areas of government (i.e., public safety and justice etc.).

"At the end of the day though, as we've consolidated our infrastructure, as we've built out our security capabilities, the technology is only as good as how you apply it to the business of government. In our particular case, that's with the 46 different agencies that we serve," he said.

The changes amount to what he describes as a "gigantic, bold sea change" in government IT. 

Looking out on the proverbial horizon, Samson said his priorities will continue to be steady, safe and provide innovative delivery of state services to the some 46 agencies ITS partners with.

Recently, the agency created the technology backbone for the governor's Excelsior Scholarship program, an initiative that offers free tuition to college students. Samson heralded the resulting success of the program launch as proof that his agency is committed to delivering the services citizens, agencies and the governor want to see.

Despite building his career in the technology industry, the CIO has an interesting perspective when it comes to the tools of his trade: "The technology business is not about the technology. It really isn't. Technology is cool, but it's only as good as the hands of the people you put it in to shape it and use it. So it ultimately becomes a skills- and a people-based business."

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