Tarek Tomes, who serves the North Star State as the Commissioner of Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) and state Chief Information Officer (CIO), has adopted a unique formula for assessing state priorities for IT modernization efforts among state agencies.

By combining a blend of part “suggestion box” and part “Shark Tank,” Tomes’ team assembles agencies’ modernization wish lists from a virtual suggestion box. Then it narrows them down competitively through a Shark Tank-like process involving Tomes’ IT investment advisory board.

The Shark Tank concept was adapted from the popular, eponymous TV show where budding new entrepreneurs pitch their business ideas to a panel of experienced investors and successful venture capitalists. The fact that a former U.S. president was a panelist on the show, I’m told, had nothing to do with its adoption in Minnesota.

“One of the areas that we are really excited about is the work that we’re doing with our customer experience goals area, and just the ideation approach,” Tomes told MeriTalk.

“Literally, hundreds and hundreds of ideas have come in via that approach,” he said, adding, “plus the partnership interest we have from the governor’s office, due to our approaching this work from a people-centric perspective. As a result, the things that we have already started to fund have really generated an unparalleled amount of excitement,”

In executing on business startup – or pitch contest – model, various state organizations put together a relatively brief pitch for a business and face a steering team that reviews the pitch and related information.

“With those that are chosen, we move forward,” Tomes said. “We expect a return value within 12 months. They’re really ideas that are expected to be implemented and return value incredibly quickly,” he explained.

“It’s really grounded on an ideation philosophy,” he emphasized. “We literally get pitches and ideas that come in on a weekly basis, and we find those and we look for that intersection between reducing risk and improving the citizen experience, or improving the way government works.”

Tomes pointed to several examples of note, including work related to vehicle crash information in order to better utilize emergency response, with the goal of saving lives. “If you consider how an ambulance being located in an area perhaps closer to where accidents happen, and being able to respond quicker, sometimes those minutes really dramatically improve the likelihood of a positive outcome,” he said.

Minnesota is also digitizing the ability for people to receive birth certificates, death certificates, and similar records, and doing really interesting work with the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for state citizens in the VA’s care. “There’s really some magnificent ideas that are coming in,” he said. “It’s exactly true that we use that term ‘suggestion box’ quite frequently.”

Tomes rightfully boasted about winning three NASCIO awards at the group’s recent annual conference in Minneapolis. “With the work that we’ve done throughout Minnesota, I just think that with the leadership from Governor Walz and the Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, we have a very narrow view of the role that technology can play in changing people’s lives,” he said.

“We’re going to continue to keep people at the center of what we do,” Tomes pledged. “We’re going to continue to look for opportunities where we can meet Minnesotans where they are so that they don’t have to come into an office to do a transaction that maybe they can do at night or in the morning or whenever they want to do it on their time, not on our time.”

Perhaps Minnesota’s innovative and original technology modernization plan should have garnered a fourth award?

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.