How Matt Singleton Works to Solve the State of Oklahoma’s IT Issues

Matt Singleton speaks like a man on the move. He admits that his IT team isn’t one to sit back on their heels. As the chief operations and accountability officer for the state of Oklahoma, Singleton’s insistence on forward progress is imperative to his role.

Matt Singleton, State of Oklahoma

“From my standpoint, momentum is a valuable resource in any organization,” Singleton says. “In the public sector, I would argue it’s probably the most valuable resource.”

The potential inertia of bureaucracy can be a project killer, so Singleton believes any gained momentum should be protected at all costs. The Oklahoma team continues to mount staggering success, including a statewide unification of IT assets and Innovate Oklahoma, a burgeoning interagency collaboration with potential Oklahoma startups. Singleton remains convinced that using IT to make smart business decisions will not only encourage digital transformation, but it will also inevitably better serve the citizens of his state.

Following Oklahoma’s Information Technology Consolidation and Coordination Act of 2011, Singleton and his team were charged with overseeing the consolidation of the state of Oklahoma’s IT assets—a monumental task. That’s where Singleton says he learned one of the most valuable lessons about IT. “IT unification is not about the tech; it’s about the people,” he says. Focusing on the people involved and not just metrics was the key to building trust and credibility.

The massive IT unification was so successful that the IT team was actually featured in Chris Fussell’s book One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams, the follow-up to the New York Times bestseller Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World, which Fussell wrote with General Stanley McChrystal. Today, Singleton keeps an equation McChrystal coined in the forefront of his mind at all times: Credibility = Proven Competency + Integrity + Relationships.

Although Singleton is insistent that his team needs to keep finding ways to evolve, he still knows the limitations they face as a state agency. “We’re only here for a finite period of time,” he says. “I’ve really challenged my staff to see what they want to accomplish in the limited window.”

The Innovate Oklahoma project has been built on the success of the unification success. The state has created a portal for state agencies and residents to post potential IT issues or challenges that they’d like addressed. Innovate Oklahoma will then seek to find potential startups that may be able to create solutions for those problems. By partnering with the Oklahoma Center for Advancement of Science and Technology, those startups can receive funding. Fledgling startups can also get help finding professionals through the Innovate Oklahoma portal.

The state is set to roll out its first success story: an app that was originally intended for pizza delivery. It was tweaked to allow caseworkers to immediately and simultaneously notify potential foster families in a designated geographic area when a child needs care. Singleton is so confident in the app’s success that he’s looking to help the startup find more customers in other states. “One thing I’ve learned by working with the other states is that nobody wants to be first and nobody wants to be third,” Singleton says. “We’ll go back to the national association of CIOs and say, ‘Look at what we did.’ Then, we’ll let the other forty-nine states fight over who is going to be second.”

Singleton stresses that, for him, digital transformation is based on one premise: spurring economic development in the state. When it comes to offering advice on managing digital transformation in the public sector, the CIO speaks definitively. “Don’t wait,” he says. “One of the things I’ve picked up from the McChrystal group is that a 70 percent solution today is better than an 90 percent solution tomorrow.”

And that’s why Singleton remains a man on the move.

Photos: Brian Lundmark/OMES