10 to Watch

Thom Guertin

Using technology to make state government more efficient and transparent

Posted

Bio
• 45 years old
• Originally from Woonsocket; URI grad
• Was one of the First 5 on the launch team for Monster.com
• Worked in Business Technology Solutions for Boston Globe & New York Times
• Helped found Code Island, the Rhode Island branch of Code for America, “an all-volunteer organization of people looking to improve our community through technology”

How He Popped Up On Our Screens
In October 2012, Governor Chafee created the Rhode Island Office of Digital Excellence and appointed Thom Guertin the state’s first-ever Chief Digital Officer. His first order of business was to oversee the technology side of HealthSource RI, which is generally regarded as one of the more successful state health exchanges. Through a state partnership with Code for America, his office was able to develop the “Golden Ticket” app to run the state pre-K lottery, taking a formerly manual month-long process online so that it can be accomplished in seconds. But he’s also taken on the less sexy projects that nonetheless improve efficiency: his office identified a system at the Department of Labor and Training that needed only a few minor tweaks to also work for the Division of Taxation, thereby saving the taxpayers money on a whole new system. “The nice part about creating this office and my role is that I have some autonomy to go in and be an objective third party,” he explains. “It’s kind of set up as the entrepreneurial start-up shop within state government.”

Why His Office Matters

Because technology, when used correctly, will make government more efficient, responsive and transparent. For him, a more transparent government is a more efficient government. Last January, his office launched the Open Government transparency portal to allow taxpayers to comb through government financial records and see what their dollars are buying. Also, the Code for America partnership enables the state to invite tech hobbyists and experts to volunteer their services in solving civic problems. “It’s a chance to get people working with and for the state government, not necessarily because they’re getting paid, but because they appreciate the challenge,” he says. “There’s a lot of technologists, developers, designers and business strategists that want to work on these types of issues just because they see it as something that can make a difference.”

What's in the Pipeline
This month, he starts work on the state’s ePermit platform, with the aim of launching phase one toward the end of the summer. This will consolidate and simplify permitting processes online, not just for the State House, but with municipalities around the state, limiting the number of hoops business owners must jump through. “The basic running of cities and towns is the same,” Guertin says. “There’s no reason we can’t break down those walls.” His office will also launch the Time, Leave and Attendance Project, an online reporting system to track scheduling and time management across agencies, and measure performance against things like individual projects or grants. On Earth Day, he’ll oversee the launch of the new DEM website, which follows on the heels of a previous revamp of the DMV’s site. “State government has less people, but we still have to do just as much,” he says. “Why not use technology?”