Conversation with MNIT’s New Assistant Commissioners and CBTO
7/14/2020 3:34:21 PM
On July 1, 2020, Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) announced leadership changes that will help the agency move towards its strategic objectives. Zarina Baber is now MNIT’s Assistant Commissioner for Project Portfolio Management, and Rohit Tandon is the Assistant Commissioner and the State’s Chief Information Security Officer (CISO). At the agency level, Cory Stubbendick was elevated to the role of Chief Business Technology Officer (CBTO) for MNIT partnering with the Minnesota Department of Veterans Affairs (MDVA).
State technology is undergoing rapid and an incredible transformation. Spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic and innovative technological advances, Minnesotans rely on digital government services more than ever. State technologists hold a pivotal role in defining those connections.
Learn more from MNIT’s new leadership about how their work fits into MNIT’s evolving role in serving the State of Minnesota.
/mnit/about-mnit/leadership/baber-zarina.jspZarina Baber’s role as Assistant Commissioner will ensure strategic alignment between business objectives and investment in technology and modernization projects. Baber comments that, “We will need the ability to navigate these challenging times through more strategic and innovative management of programs and portfolios to ensure we are delivering to the vision and direction of Governor Walz for a transparent, equitable, and thriving Minnesota.”
Citing organizational change as one of her passions, Baber has decades of experience introducing change into an organization. As an Assistant Commissioner, Baber will serve as a bridge between strategic goals and operations through the execution of well-defined and planned out delivery of the projects. “Project delivery is both an art and a science. We will leverage a repeatable framework, which will provide us with the science, but we also need to ensure that we build sufficient agility in the process. If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is having the ability to quickly innovate at a time of a disruptive event. It is this art that will allow Minnesota’s agencies to adapt their approach that will help deliver value and lead to success!”
MNIT is working to evolve its approach to the development and implementation of technology solutions by putting the people at the center – using a human-centered design lens. The Assistant Commissioner role will take on this emerging framework in project delivery, a principle which Baber has instilled in much of her previous work. A critical project in her previous role at MNIT as the Deputy CBTO partnering with Minnesota Management and Budget included an upgrade to the state’s procurement and reporting software, SWIFT. On that project, Baber and her team built a network partnership of different agency representatives who were both end users and stakeholders in the rollout process. “Our work is always about the people. You can have the best planned project, but your end-user will be the one to decide if the project is successful or not. To deliver success for Minnesotans, our ultimate end user, we must incorporate empathy in our process. It is critical that we take into account the human factor to provide a level of stability, instill confidence while driving for success.”
While Zarina worked to deliver the SWIFT upgrade project, she co-created with MMB leadership to redesign governance and management processes for the overall MMB system and project portfolios. In her new role, Baber will leverage her portfolio and governance experience from both the public and private sector to drive similar efforts across the executive branch – ensuring alignment of these critical investments to agencies’ strategic objectives. As Assistant Commissioner, Baber will also continue in her role as CBTO for the Governor’s Office.
/mnit/about-mnit/leadership/tandon-rohit.jspRohit Tandon’s position of Assistant Commissioner and CISO will allow him to focus on building good cyber habits within state agencies, “Minnesotans expect all of us to be good stewards of their time, services, and investments, which means balancing cyber risk factors in decisions across state government.”
Tandon approaches his position as a CISO with an evolving role. A growing understanding of personal data protection, the evolving threats from cyber attackers, and an increasing reliance on digital government services are all factors require MNIT and its security team under the CISO to embed data stewardship across state government.
To mature the state’s cyber risk management, MNIT will focus on building partnerships with agencies to codify the importance of cyber risk into business decisions. Just as many of our partners consider the financial or legal risk in decisions, cyber risk is becoming just as critical to balance. Under Tandon, MNIT will build the necessary trust and leadership among state agencies to pivot our state to this new consideration framework. “MNIT is delivering technology solutions and services at an accelerating pace to meet our partner expectations. From my CISO responsibilities, I see this as an exciting opportunity to build relationships that foster better cyber decisions.”
When considering an important project that was completed by Minnesota, Rohit recalls the rollout of multi-factor authentication during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, “It’s such a simple thing that we can do to make sure that the most common threat of stolen passwords is addressed.” The project’s success required support from both MNIT’s leadership and other state agency leaders to understand and champion the impact of the rollout. The partnerships that were built in that project exemplify the way that security risk management can be communicated and successfully adopted in daily practices at state government.
/mnit/about-mnit/leadership/stubbendick-cory.jspCory Stubbendick was most recently a Deputy CBTO for MNIT partnering with MDVA, among other roles at MNIT. The role of MNIT at the Department of Veterans Affairs changed dramatically over the past five years, moving from an organization providing IT services to an organization recommending and implementing technology solutions for MDVA to better serve Minnesota’s veterans.
The work happening at MDVA exemplifies how MNIT can most effectively serve as a partner to the agency by engaging in solution development from the earliest stages of ideation through implementation. For example, the Homeless Veterans Registry allows MDVA staff to understand the barriers that exist and the programs that are needed to end homelessness among veterans. Under Stubbendick and the agency’s leadership, MDVA is moving towards an even more data-driven future. MNIT will also work with MDVA to leverage enterprise systems across the entire organization.
Stubbendick recalls one of the most important accomplishments during his time at MNIT is the Veterans Application Tracking System (VATS) project. He notes, “This was not only a great modernization project that brings together at several distinct applications into a single enterprise solution, it also introduced agile development for the first time.” Agile is now the standard development methodology that MNIT partnering with MDVA uses for all projects.