The Golden State of Communication

Robert Schmidt helps the California Department of Technology connect citizens and government, and provide services faster than ever before

The California Department of Technology (CDT) is a $374 million state department charged with delivering information and services in a fast, reliable, secure, and cost-effective way. It’s an important job in the large, innovative state. To accomplish departmental goals, state officials rely on executives in eighteen divisions. One of those leaders is Robert Schmidt, chief of the CDT’s Office of Technology Services. In his current role, Schmidt leverages more than twenty years of experience in state government IT positions to help deliver unmatched computing, networking, email, and training solutions to three hundred entities across the Golden State.

Schmidt developed a reputation for implementing cost-saving measures and leading successful consolidations. That work started in the late 1990s, when, while at the California Franchise Tax Board, he completed a series of five consolidations over ten years. During this time, he took eleven organizations comprising thirty-three people down to three full-time employees who managed a single departmental system. Then, in 2009, California’s CIO office was looking for someone to lead consolidation on a statewide basis. Schmidt’s phone rang, and he accepted the challenge to help reduce and unite data centers to cut floor space by 50 percent. In doing so, the department went from one hundred to two email systems, while Schmidt put thousands of independent network services on the same contract to create one large state network.

When the administration changed, he transitioned to the Department of Agriculture and helped develop a portfolio of mobile applications, harnessing the power of mobile platforms and social media outlets to connect citizens and government entities in new and groundbreaking ways.

At the Forefront of innovation

Before joining the California Department of Technology, Schmidt served as CIO of the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture. In this time, he produced several innovative environmental projects, including:

Agriculture Apps
Schmidt led the creation of several innovative applications used by thousands of employees in fifty-eight counties. These apps ranged widely, and were largely focused on helping state employees working in the field.

The Brand Book
The Brand Book replaces huge phone-book-sized documents that cattle owners once used to track other cattle owners, transactions, and other information in the state. Now, a local database syncs all information daily for use by owners, traders, and law enforcement officials.

Report a Pest
The free Report a Pest iOS and HTML application lets users play an important role in protecting agriculture and the environment by capturing and sending a photograph of suspected harmful pests to local officials. The app, which seven hundred employees also use to complete inspections, connects to a state database that tracks invasive species.

CalTrap
The department’s plant pest-tracking app prototype, CalTrap, increases efficiency by allowing employees to track and monitor traps that capture harmful pests. All information collected goes into a database, which users access via iPad.

In September 2015, Governor Jerry Brown appointed Schmidt to his current role, in which he is responsible for the state’s data center, which serves more than 300 entities in state government, local municipalities, and educational institutions. His mandate is to modernize government to match the speed of technology. “We want to deliver government services to citizens as fast as the marketplace demands it,” Schmidt says. “Citizens now have instant access to everything, and they expect the same from the state. We have to elevate our tech game in California.”

One way Schmidt and his colleagues are doing this is through CalCloud, a CDT  project that offers cost-effective cloud solutions for convenient and on-demand access to a shared pool of configurable resources on a pay-as-you-go basis. When the project began in 2014, Schmidt was a customer and early adopter. As the project’s executive change agent, he is its biggest ambassador. CalCloud offers Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and vendor-hosted subscription services (VHSS), such as email through a web-based catalog. As a former CIO, Schmidt knows the benefits of CalCloud. “The cloud environment is far superior in performance, cost, quality, and security to anything a department can do alone,” he says.

As a departmental CIO, he once worked with technology outdated by seven years. Now, he provides access to a cloud system that stays modern and patched. As a departmental CIO, he meticulously maintained contact with more than 90,000 first-level constituents. Today, he helps other CIOs automate those and other processes in the cloud. “In state government, time matters and resources are limited,” Schmidt says. “We’re reducing capital costs, improving processes, and driving results.”

To date, CalCloud has twenty IaaS departments and forty-eight VHSS customers, but as categories and products expand, Schmidt expects those totals to grow dramatically. In March of 2015, his office had twenty-seven servers. A year later, they have 105 servers and 120 applications. They’ll add more than 150 servers in 2016.

With these results, the CDT wants to develop a culture of innovation and increase government and citizen engagement. The department recently formed an Office of Digital Innovation and Technology Engagement, in collaboration with its parent Government Operations Agency, which will help make the group a tech innovator in state government. “We’re working at a much higher level than ever before and developing real innovations that will change citizens’ lives,” Schmidt says.

Schmidt is researching ways to leverage the huge amount of data his team has. Within the new Office of Digital Innovation and Civic Engagement, a California Innovation Lab will be built to foster the creation of applications, technologies, and solutions. “The lab lets our citizens become true partners with us as we use the techniques of agile development,” Schmidt explains. The strategy is another factor in delivering results, as projects can go from start to finish in fewer than ninety days.

Internally, Schmidt’s office is building a three-year strategic road map to move from a tech provider to service broker and system integrator. In the coming years, his teams will expand their data center, and pool and automate resources to drive results further. Other priorities include workforce development (the state employs more than 10 percent of California’s IT workers) and operational security. As he pursues these goals, Schmidt remains committed to working with other IT leaders in California to meet the state’s civic and business needs.