This item was published in Techwire December 11, and we are reprinting it here.

As part of Techwire’s ongoing efforts to educate readers on state agencies, their IT plans and initiatives, here’s the latest in our periodic series of interviews with departmental IT leaders.

Subbarao Mupparaju is the long-serving chief information officer and deputy director of the Information Technology Division at the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal), a position he has held since July 2015. Previously, he had worked at the California Department of Technology as chief technology officer and state chief enterprise architect — the latter, the role in which he joined the department when it was known as the California Technology Agency, in June 2012. Mupparaju’s earlier, 20-year-plus private-sector career includes time at IBM as a chief architect, where he worked on the Child Welfare Services/Case Management System for the Office of Systems Integration; and at HP, where he served as the chief architect for the California Department of Motor Vehicles IT Modernization Project.

Mupparaju holds a master’s of engineering from PSG College of Technology in India. He’s a Project Management Institute-certified Project Management Professional and an International Business Machines Corp. (IBM) certified Information Technology Specialist. He was honored with the Hewlett Packard Most Valuable People award in 2010 and the IBM Hundred Percent Club award in 2003. Earlier this month he joined a discussion of what IT leaders might expect in 2021, at Techwire’s virtual “State of Technology – CA Industry Forum.”

Techwire: As CIO of your organization, how do you describe your role; and how have the role and responsibilities of the CIO changed in recent years?

Mupparaju: FI$Cal is unique compared to many other state entities, because we are a centralized Information Technology (IT) service provider to all other state entities.  IT at FI$Cal is not just an operations and enablement function, but is a source of innovation and digital transformation. So, in addition to helping the FI$Cal project succeed, my role here is create business value through technology-based business innovation and digital initiatives, to build fully agile teams to support the development and deployment of new business capabilities, to serve as a central architect to help manage the technology-enabled innovations and capabilities, and be a trusted partner to my peers and customers.

Techwire: How big a role do you personally play in writing your organization’s strategic plan?

Mupparaju: As a centralized service provider to all state entities, exceptional customer service is the primary focus of our strategic plan. My superiors understand that the CIO involvement in the strategic planning process is critical to formulating an effective digital strategy. Our leadership is very inclusive and leverages collective intelligence in formulating goals and strategies. I played a significant role in developing the current as well as upcoming FI$Cal strategic plans.

Techwire: What big initiatives or projects are coming in 2020-21? What sorts of RFPs should we be watching for in the next six to 12 months?

Mupparaju: We have several initiatives such as conversational artificial intelligence for customer service improvements, diagnostic and predictive analytics for data-driven performance management, system and process optimizations, and technology upgrades and cloud services expansion. State staff are leading these efforts with support from a few augmented consultants. We are not anticipating any RFPs for IT projects at this time.

Techwire: How do you define “digital transformation” and how far along is your organization in that process? How will you know when it’s finished?

Mupparaju: I view digital transformation as a foundational change in how an organization delivers value to its customers by solving business problems through an aggregation of modern processes and technology capabilities. This transformation can help us build deeper relationships with customers, make processes more efficient, launch new business models, and make better decisions. This is really a journey, which we started a few years ago.

We are following an evolutionary path to mature our digital program. We have a flexible, perpetually evolving enterprise architecture and fully agile teams organized around products to support the development and deployment of new business capabilities. It is hard to say there is a specific point where digital transformation is finished, but reaching a digital pure play model can be an ideal target to reach. FI$Cal is very close to reaching an integrated digital operating model.

Techwire: What is your estimated IT budget and how many employees do you have? What is the overall budget?

Mupparaju: Our IT Division has 124 positions and a budget of $18 million, excluding wages and benefits. Additionally, we have 10 partner staff matrixed into the FI$Cal IT Division. Some traditional IT functions such as service center are outside of the IT Division.

Techwire: How do you prefer to be contacted by vendors, including via social media such as LinkedIn? How might vendors best educate themselves before meeting with you?

Mupparaju: Vendor partnerships are important for me as they have knowledge of how other organizations are leveraging their products and solutions and often bring solutions that I have not even thought about. I meet with vendors almost every week. I prefer to be contacted via email.

Several vendors attended the industry briefings I provided through Techwire and TechCA and I think they know our initiatives. Those briefings and information on the website can help vendors educate themselves on FI$Cal, including our strategies and initiatives.

Techwire: In your tenure in this position, which project or achievement are you most proud of?

Mupparaju: Over the past five years, we have rolled out the FI$Cal system to over 150 departments – in itself a monumental achievement – deployed a statewide vendor portal, an award-winning statewide budget system and revamped our IT infrastructure for the flexibility necessary to continually support the digital transformation. I am also proud that we have gone above and beyond and introduced artificial intelligence (AI)-based technologies for customer service and automation.

I am particularly proud of my team’s development during my tenure here, which enabled the state to not only take over the system operations at this never-before-seen scale in California but also continuously improve the usability, performance and reliability of the system.

Techwire: If you could change one thing about IT procurement, what would it be?

Mupparaju: We utilize the Department of General Services (DGS) Leveraged Procurement Agreements (LPAs) and California Department of Technology (CDT) services including Off-Premises Cloud Services and other Vendor Hosted Subscription Services (VHSS) for most of our IT procurements. DGS and CDT have continually expanded the technologies and services available through these channels and have made a lot of progress in improving the procurement process. As an early adopter of several cloud services such as ServiceNow and IBM Watson, we have the experience of working with DGS to have these products available through the DGS Software Licensing Program (SLP) and appreciate the time and effort that goes into the process.

I think the IT procurement process can further be simplified to the point where buyers can select technologies and services from online catalogs, resellers can provide quotes, and purchase orders can be electronically issued to the selected vendor. Additionally, several cloud services available through SLP require upfront annual payments; if this can be changed to pay-per-use where possible, it will help us reduce capital expenses and provide more flexibility.

Techwire: What do you read to stay abreast of developments in the govtech/SLED sector?

Mupparaju: I read Government Technology, Techwire, and publications and news, Info-Tech Research and Gartner publications, and various other technology or solution-specific materials. I talk to other CIOs, participate in Evanta’s CIO boardroom discussions, and vendor-sponsored round tables. I take time to talk with our vendor partners to gain knowledge of their products and solutions.

Techwire: What are your hobbies, and what do you enjoy reading?

Mupparaju: Honestly, I do not have any notable hobbies and do not read much non-technical information. I spend my free time with family. I watch sports – basketball is my favorite sport – and movies.