Jonathan Ozovek is the Chief Operating Officer of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency - or VITA; a convenient acronym if ever there were one, given the importance of information technology to all aspects of life today.
Virginia Information Technologies Agency: VITA is the commonwealth's consolidated technology services and solutions provider responsible for the operation of the state's technology infrastructure, governance, security and oversight of major IT projects, and procurement of technology-related goods and services on behalf of state and local governments. Visit www.vita.virginia.gov for more info.
2020 was quite the year. Can you share with us some perspective, or a lesson learned, that you didn’t have at the beginning of 2020 – but that you hold today?
Answer: The main lesson I learned is how quickly the world can change. There is a level of connectivity and interdependency throughout the world today that was not the case decades ago. The main lessons I have reinforced are two fold...first, never lose sight of what is important and do not take your loved ones for granted and second, have multiple backup plans (i.e. backup for a backup) and always be prepared for the worst case scenario.
You and the team at the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) are rolling out some impressive innovations in the field of automation. Can you share a bit about your “RPA-as-a-Service” model?
Answer: Sure. As part of VITA's transformation, a critical piece of the strategy is to deploy modern technology services that have an attractive value proposition and a direct impact to the bottom line. The first of these services was the RPA as a Service concept. Being very familiar with RPA in my private sector experience, we wanted to design a service that decreased the probabilities of failure that have happened with RPA, mainly picking the wrong process to automate, not having competent developers, and not using the right platform. Here, we have developed an end to end service. First, we will have an upfront business analysis to determine the biggest ROI opportunity within the customer's operation. Second, we will have proficient developers available in a scaling manner to handle all of the demands. Third, we have partnered with a leading RPA, software, and automation company UiPath. Lastly, we have developed a center of excellence which will continue to improve the service with lessons learned, templates, and also a tracking of metrics and KPIs of the outcomes delivered by RPA. These outcomes will also be given to our customers so they can show how they made a valuable investment in their business and delivered a critical outcome.
Automation is being leveraged in increasingly innovative ways. What can you share with us about the future of automation at VITA?
Answer: At VITA, we are looking to transform the business of government through technology. Technology, at the highest levels, can handle care of certain tasks allowing for greater personnel work design, so that people can perform more value added work. Once this scales, this will ultimately result in the services we deliver to citizens becoming more and more focused on the citizen experience with greater speed and efficiency. We have four or five "firsts" in the nation coming this calendar year and two have already happened in June, so stay tuned for more progress on our technology roadmap and the future of public sector technology!
Stemming from your successful career in the private sector; what drew you to a career in public service and can you share some insight into how you leverage that private sector experience in your current role? How do you sustain continued innovation – especially during such challenging times?
Answer: My private sector experience was extremely helpful in building great partnerships with our suppliers, as I understand their business quite well as this is the first time I have been in the public sector. We have utilized these partnerships to find win-win outcomes wherever we can and strengthen the bonds of partnership, while setting an aggressive transformation roadmap for the last two years. Those suppliers who execute well in our environment will have the opportunity for more business as we are introducing more modern, value added technology services as part of our portfolio. One of the clear examples of the benefit of these strong partnerships was Virginia's response to the COVID state of emergency. While no one could predict that things would shut down so quickly, VITA along with its suppliers went above and beyond to transform our infrastructure and expand our remote working capabilities by 700% in a very quick amount of time. This enabled the state agencies of Virginia to perform their service to citizens without experiencing significant disruption. None of this would not have been possible unless there were strong relationships in place and a culture of finding the win-win outcome between VITA and its suppliers.
As a leader, your focus must also be on people, culture, and getting the best out of your team. How do you approach getting their buy-in and engagement as it pertains to advancing Agency-wide initiatives?
Answer: The culture we are implementing here and will continue to implement is based around the customer experience and incorporating the voice of the customer into everything we do. To further the focus on customer experience, the staff is centered on business outcomes, accountability, and recognition. It never is acceptable to just point out a problem, rather our staff is expected to brainstorm some potential solutions if they raise an issue. Another element is recognition...with some of the firsts in the nation that have been released, you will see certain VITA staff names in the press release. This is intentional. Going back to my research and development days, if you pushed the envelope and were able to bring something innovative to market, you were listed on the patent. The same general principle applies here...I want VITA to be a place where technologists can grow their careers and build a portfolio of milestones that accelerate their careers. My job as a leader is to set a clear direction, have the backs of my staff, clear any roadblocks, and allow them to do what they do best...EXECUTE.
What would you say to the next generation of public sector leaders?
Answer: Understand that our mission is to be of service to the citizens in our respective states. In doing this mission, constantly look for ways to incentivize your teams to do things better and better, always strive to improve, and never accept the status quo. Many more wins and positive outcomes will result from this mindset, which will ultimately serve greater benefits to our citizens. There is an old saying about the seven most expensive words in business: "We have always done it this way". This quote is true, so avoid at all costs.