A Visionary Approach to GovTech
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Virtually everyone who interacts with government has experienced the torment of seemingly nonsensical procedures, disjointed offices, and outdated technologies. It’s a common problem for state and local governments across the country, and it was for Illinois, too. That is, until the new Governor tapped Mike Wons to re-envision how the state does business, through the lens of technology.
In 2015, Wons was appointed Illinois’ first statewide Information Technology Officer and given the unenviable task of wrangling its vast, fractured IT operation. At the time, he had been a successful private-sector CTO at the top of his career with more than 20 years of experience in senior roles for GovTech leaders, including Payit, CellTrak Technologies, and Federal Signal Corporation.
“It was a hard decision for my family, and those in the public sector understand why. Working in government is tough and there are many competing priorities with limited resources,” he said. “While discussing it with my wife, she asked me why I wanted to do it. I told her, ‘because I believe that I can help make a difference.’”
Indeed, Wons made a difference.
Within six months, working alongside the state’s CIO and select business and IT leaders, he helped successfully launch the state’s first federated IT agency, combining 40 individual agencies, 1,400 staff, $1.1B annual IT spend, and over 2,800 systems all under the newly created Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT).
“It was a massive undertaking by the DoIT team that focused on reducing the overall expenditure on IT, moving the state to common platforms and tools for innovation and helping establish a laser focus on enhanced cybersecurity,” he said. “But at the heart of it all was a desire to deliver a modern, frictionless experience for the state’s residents and businesses,” Wons recalls.
The experience opened his eyes to the unique challenges, pitfalls, and idiosyncrasies that stand in the way of government innovation, which he described as “immense.” Many state and local governments rely on legacy applications and an aging workforce. And agencies are often siloed and difficult for constituents to navigate.
Wons’ winning solution: a common industry platform for government.
According to Wons, “States deliver hundreds of adjoining services, and the goal must be to bring them together on a common platform that is modern and frictionless in order to deliver a single, quality user experience for constituents and businesses.”
This hard-won experience and perspective is now available to government agencies throughout the country, as Wons was recently named president of GCR’s State Government business unit, PCC, which is a leading provider of software to state and local governments.
“Mike brings the perfect combination of government experience, technical expertise, and a genuine commitment to public service to this role,” said Tom Amburgey, the CEO of GCR. “Mike is a visionary who is going to build on PCC’s solid foundation to disrupt the GovTech space and revolutionize the way this industry operates.”
Wons is driving the company to expand its suite of solutions, but he doesn’t want to create what he calls “one-offs.” A software engineer by trade who got his start coding during high school, Wons is directing PCC to develop enterprise solutions and to build an open API structure that uses advanced technology to make connectivity easy and implementation quick.
Creating a common digital identity is a lofty goal, but it’s one that Wons says PCC, a GovTech Top 100 company, is primed to take on.
“You can be visionary while being practical in implementation, advancing one step at a time,” he said. “That’s why I am excited about the possibilities at PCC. We have incredible talent and are making significant investments in our team and in innovation, which we’ll be excited to announce soon. We also have a solid record of success and, importantly, the trust of governments to forge ahead in this direction.”
Wons is not new to this type of big-picture, fast-paced evolution. As CTO for the State of Illinois, he led a statewide IT transformation, creating a common IT culture, moving the state to a common domain, launching a cybersecurity operations center, delivering the first statewide ERP implementation, and founding an IT Advisory Board for effective management of future IT investments. He also helped establish a culture of innovation that delivered sustainable new solutions in 75 days or less.
The coronavirus pandemic, which has underscored the importance of integrating technology into government operations, could serve as a flashpoint for a GovTech revolution. States with robust online platforms have been able to maintain workflow without interruption, while others are facing huge backlogs when they return to the office after working from home.
Finding ways to learn from the lessons of the pandemic and effectively apply them is a challenge Wons doesn’t shy away from. A self-described “tech junkie,” Wons keeps his finger on the pulse of emerging technologies and ways to make the GovTech more personal, more secure, and faster. He spots four digital disruption levers that can help: the Internet of Things, AI and Machine Learning, the future of loosely coupled database structure and architecture, including Blockchain; and consumption, including the use via mobile devices.
“The possibilities are limitless, and I’m eager to work with PCC’s clients as a thought partner and to be at the table for visioning and conversations about these emerging technologies including Blockchain and AI,” he said. “I was attracted to PCC because of its mission to ‘transform the public sector.’ In fact, it’s my passion. And I’m eager to have a hand in ushering in a new era of digital transformation.”