State Parks CIO sees digital solutions as key to access

Chief Technology Officer for the California Department of Parks and Recreation has big plans — and a big plan — in the coming months to improve public access, labor mobility, and strategic growth and development among the 279 state park properties.

Patrick Dennisdirector of information for the ministry, set out his three main priorities in a Techwire Member Briefing Last week:

Patrick Dennis

  • The department’s time and attendance system for its approximately 4,300 employees (which grows to around 6,000 depending on the season) will move from its current paper-based system to a digital system. This includes creating a system to manage the onboarding of new employees and the departure of outgoing workers, Dennis said. “We are planning an IT project to implement a time and attendance system,” he said.
  • Another key priority for Dennis is collecting data related to park visits – who visits them, when and how far they travel, among other factors. Dennis said that as CIO he was focused on “making sure that I bring data to the department, to my business partners, so they can make data-driven business decisions.” Data on park usage and users, he said, indicates how the department plans additional staffing for maintenance or law enforcement on a particular weekend, he said. .
  • Use technology to enable department employees – whether rangers, scientists or technologists – to work remotely with as few barriers as possible. Mobile workforce automation, Dennis said, is especially important given that many parks are in very remote areas, far from easy digital connectivity.

Dennis was questioned by the moderator Alain Coxexecutive vice president of e.Republic and publisher of Techwireto name a few of the ministry’s successes.

Since Dennis was named CIO in 2018, he said, the department has significantly expanded its booking system.

“When I came here, we were really focused on improving the system,” Dennis said. “Camping reservations are how people most often interact with state parks,” so he focused on verifying the efficiency and effectiveness of the system. It emphasizes “regular and standard ongoing improvements to the reservation system”.

Dennis added, “We’ve done a really good job recently with our Outdoors for all program, in partnership with the First Partner’s Office, to implement and automate new park passes. … Also California State Library Parks Pass allows cardholders to borrow, like a book, a free day pass at 200 participating park locations for free admission to our parks. … We are really proud of these system implementations and improvements.

He also cited “a recent interdepartmental partnership that we have with the Department of Social Services …to contact people who participate in their CalWORKS program, to proactively identify people for our discount card. We call it our Golden Bear Pass, and it really is a free pass for people who meet certain income requirements. This takes the burden off them, and we and the Department of Social Services are proactively identifying and soliciting people who would be eligible for free use of the department’s parks, beaches, landmarks and museums.

With the department’s “extremely diverse portfolio,” Dennis said, “we have one of the largest connectivity networks across the state. We have 279 park units, all of which require connectivity in one form or another. For this, he works with the California Department of Technology (CDT) and the Office of Broadband Services on the new statewide rural connectivity project, launching in 2021.

That effort is focused less on fiber and more on point-to-point fixed wireless connectivity, he said. Some of this connectivity is already available to state entities, especially in rural areas.

“It matters,” Dennis said, “because out of 279 parks, at least 100 of them have connectivity issues, and of those, nearly 70 are unconnectable.” Now that a state contract is in place, he said, “How can we leverage this procurement vehicle to identify projects that are our next priorities, and how can we actually leverage some of these state projects to fuel the governor’s broader broadband initiative. and help connect underserved adjacent communities?

“How to address this connectivity challenge is really fundamental to the modernization of the parks system, and important for community and connectivity reasons.”

Department employees and the public are already benefiting from several digital initiatives, Dennis said, citing a chatbot on the state website; a plan to expand “contactless park entry,” where the public could pay for parking by phone or credit card rather than cash; and ultimately offering a “digital wallet” through which park visitors could purchase camping supplies and other goods without having to carry cash.

Any conversation about digital wallets and contactless payment raises the issue of cybersecurity, and Dennis said his department is “working on its assessments and audits” with the CDT and the California Military Department.

“We’ve really walked our network over the past 18 months, wrapping the proper security around these transactions,” Dennis said. “I’m super confident in our ability to have…a secure payment system for our citizens.”

For vendors interested in doing business with the department, Dennis said, “Be sure to attend the (Techwire) Member briefings. He said that because he’s buried in e-mail solicitations; he advised “to contact a business development person who is a trusted colleague to bring you to my attention. … It’s so hard to respond to everyone” individually.

Dennis said he expects the department to release its IT strategic plan in June or July, and he advised vendors to study it to get a glimpse of what’s on the horizon.

Denis Noone

Dennis Noone is editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as editor of USA Today in Washington, DC. He lives in the foothills of northern California.

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