Automating, Creating Efficiencies and Scaling Services in the New...
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Automating, Creating Efficiencies and Scaling Services in the New Reality

By Dorman Bazzell, Chief Data Officer, State of North Dakota

Dorman Bazzell, Chief Data Officer, State of North Dakota

Dorman has spent the last 35 years in the private sector including running North American Analytics and Big Data practices for several large consulting organizations to help business transform. He has spent almost 2 years as North Dakota’s Chief Data Officer, where he is part of a team that is changing the world.

I joined Team North Dakota because of the opportunity to change the world. I joined Team North Dakota for the opportunity to influence change and help make the world a better place.  We, in North Dakota, have a big vision to harness technology in ways that will support our shared mission. So, the questions become, ‘who am I changing the world for?’ ‘What does the citizen need from the state?’  The answer is clear.  The citizen needs the state to come to life whenever services are needed: citizen-activated state government. 

As the Governor has stated, “Whether in times of prosperity or adversity, our state team members work tirelessly to innovate and maximize the efficiency and responsiveness of state government, and together we continuously strive to Empower People, Improve Lives and Inspire Success.”

Bottom line: It is not about business as usual. It is all about human-centric design with the citizen at the heart of all we do. That is bold for some - I am sure.  However, even before the world was impacted by the global pandemic and economic uncertainty that followed our cultural aspirations were built on recognizing that people are at the center of all we do.

• Work as One

• Citizen Focus

• Make a Difference

• Leadership Everywhere

• Growth Mindset

The current crisis has taken a toll on North Dakota, our nation, and our world. It has caused citizens to demand and expect new ways of thinking about services, and it has compelled our team to think differently about how, what and where services are delivered. We are solving problems in real time: automating to create efficiencies and scaling services by reimagining business processes through a digital services model – critical state services coming to life whenever and wherever the citizen needs them.

“Gone were the long stretches of streets and legs. Now, it is short steps, sudden inclines or drops, rocks and tree roots; “fast pivot” is the buzz phrase”

Across North Dakota, there are many representative personas or case studies we can points to that illustrate the critical nature of government during a time of crisis. People unexpectedly unemployed causing massive increases in unemployment claims (and fraud) that resulted in quick pivots in technology and customer support needs.  Small business owners trying to navigate the new maze of economic grants and loans; multiple entities working together to ensure the critical capacity of emergency services, hospital beds, and health care access. Servicing and supporting our citizens have never required such rapid innovation and creativity.

Like other states, we took bold steps to protect our citizens’ lives and livelihoods.  Within the IT team, we took people accustomed to running marathons and turned them into trail runners facing unimaginable obstacles. Gone were the long stretches of streets and legs. Now, it is short steps, sudden inclines or drops, rocks and tree roots; “fast pivot” is the buzz phrase. Adapt and overcome with great agility is our model for proceeding boldly.

For the past seven months, Team ND has been focused on engaging each citizen in clear, organized tones that inform and encourage. There are routine events like the Governor’s press conferences and public testing events around the state. Significant effort has gone into actions that support such events – including an immense focus on using data to drive decision making. The Governor receives daily insights from an innovative team who in a few, short, exhausting weeks in March 2020, took disparate data from multiple systems and formed it into impactful dashboards that provide insights for decision making.  Moving forward, much more data will be needed. That data will be captured in Azure and will drive even greater insights. To drive COVID testing and contact tracing, we have been customizing a Microsoft Dynamics solution that has minimized tedious, manual data entry for multiple groups, and has saved an estimated $6 million and an FTE/month. 

Opportunities for transforming and redefining processes are everywhere: automation with Dynamics and RPA (UIPath), identification and prevention of unemployment fraud and exponentially increased cyber security threats, and transitioning roughly 7,000 people from offices to work-from-anywhere status and even modernizing the workforce happened quite literally overnight. We amazed ourselves at how rapidly we could transition and begin reimagining and reinventing ourselves – a testament to another value, Working as One, and the impact made by teams uniting around common goals.

Many of the recent activities focused on the ‘now’ of COVID: minimizing loss of life. To focus on the ‘what next’, the state formed a Continuity of Government team. The goal of that team is to prepare the state for the bold steps that will be required to address the people, health, economic impacts of COVID on state government and citizens: economic recovery from oil revenue losses, work-from-anywhere capability, and my personal favorite: an almost obsessive approach to using data to make decisions. As mentioned earlier, the state is building a modern data culture in Azure. It consists of not just the data lake framework, but also a data science layer; the former telling us what happened, the latter telling us ‘why’ and ‘what next.’ COVID demanded the need for a data lake focused solely on analytics. Our timeline: EOY 2020. December 30, 2020, as everyone who is utilizing CARES Act funds is aware.

I started life in the private sector. I had never considered a life in the public domain as my perception was: low pay, slow to move, everything is political, etc. When I interviewed for this position, my boss – CIO Shawn Riley – made the comment: ‘I can’t pay you what you make in the private sector, but do you want a paycheck or do you want to change the world?’ Well, I had not done that before. Changing the world is a lot harder than I thought. Changing the world for the better, to make a positive impact on the future of North Dakota will be the capstone of my career.

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