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WATCH: As he returns to his home state, Dave DeVries discusses taking a leadership role in state government after a prestigious federal IT career.
Dave DeVries left Michigan at age 18 to go to West Point. After almost 30 years in the military followed by a distinguished career in the federal civil service, he returned last month to his home state of Michigan to serve the state as director of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget and state chief information officer.
“When I announced that I was coming back … Governor Snyder reached out to me and said would you consider applying here and doing this here—I jumped at it,” DeVries told Route Fifty at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers annual conference in Austin, Texas, in which we discussed his new job, along with his previous roles at the federal level—and the changing roles of federal, state, and local information technology professionals.
DeVries seems to have had the role of the CIO find him rather than vice-versa: “The term Chief Information Officer was codified with the Clinger-Cohen Act back in 1996; so I guess I was just at the right place at the right time where I got branded: ‘you should now have this after your title.’ A lot of us back in those days didn’t know really what that meant.”
That said, he seems to see it as his calling, explaining “it’s about enjoying what you do in life and then pursuing it. I say that to my own career … what made me tick? What does it do for the nation? Every one of us has to answer that.”
DeVries accrued a significant technology career in the Department of Defense, culminating with serving as Principal Deputy and Chief Information Officer for the $600 billion organization. After eight years at the Department of Defense, the Office of Personnel Management asked him to step in following the 2015 breach that exposed personal information of over 20 million people to hackers.
In moving to Michigan, DeVries has a new mission and a new boss in Governor Rick Snyder. Snyder has a strong background in information technology, having served as CEO of the computer company Gateway, and shown a strong commitment to its execution in government since his election in 2010.
DeVries sees the commitment from the top as a huge asset. “An organization does what a leader sets the expectations for and what the leader enforces,” DeVries explained. “In this case here for the state of Michigan, Governor Snyder has set the bar high. He has led by example and he’s put to bear the right resources as best we can across the whole front.”
While he is impressed with the organization so far, he does not expect the state to be able to rest on its laurels, as technology is ever-changing. However, he feels with Snyder at the helm, there is an opportunity to keep pace with the change.
“When you have leadership that can appreciate … that can be actively involved with those decisions and the thinking of those things, it’s a win-win,” DeVries told me. “That’s why I really jumped at the chance to come onto this team here because of the great leadership team the governor has put together on it.”
How impressed is DeVries with the Michigan team? Within T-minus-24 hours from deploying an enterprise resource planning system—something responsible for integrating the entirety of business of government across the state and notorious in the IT community for being problematic—he was in Austin, Texas (albeit receiving updates that things were progressing nicely).
“When the director of the DTMB can be down here talking to you all, and back there the building blocks are going in place, it says something about what the great team has put together there inside Michigan.”
As for challenges he is excited to tackle next? DeVries puts autonomous vehicles on the list.
“That’s an interesting challenge for me coming from the federal side of the house,” DeVries said. “Every carmaker will have data that’s going through its cars. Who owns that data? The carmakers will say I do. I buy that car and suddenly say that’s my information now. I drive along the highway, I pick up sensors and I exchange data with stuff… who owns that data? Is it MDOT? Well let’s say MDOT does; when I go south to go into Indiana or Ohio and suddenly… who owns that data? We’re working through those things and that’s the fascinating challenge coming up ahead here now is how do we work that.”
Mitch Herckis is Senior Director of Programs for Government Executive's Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.