On this episode, host Davood Ghods talks to Joe Panora, CEO and owner of Panora Associates, who utilizes his extensive background in correctional and public safety law enforcement and information technology to serve the California public sector. Joe's experience includes 35 years of public service, with 14 years serving in correctional safety and public safety law enforcement as Director of the Enterprise Information Services, and IT Director and Chief Information Officer for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Joe shares about his success in leveraging technology to modernize the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, setting the stage for the next generation of public servants to make data-informed decisions for the future, and putting the right people in place to get the job done.
The Davood For Thought podcast is brought to you by Launch Consulting. www.launchconsulting.com
The Davood for Thought podcast is brought to you by Launch Consulting.
We are in an era of rapid change where resilience is vital, the Davood for thought podcast dives into the most important topics in government and technology today, our host Davood goats sits down with this vast network of colleagues to dish on the tech challenges that affect us all.
Davood Ghods: (00:19)
Hello, everyone. Welcome to Direct Technology's Davood For Thought podcast. I'm Davood Ghods, and I will be your host today. The way I stay up with the pressing topics of tech and government of today is to tap into the panel of experts. I've had the honor of connecting with over the years today, we have Joe Panora on the podcast. Joe has 35 years of state public service with 14 years serving in the correctional safety and public safety law enforcement as IT Director and Chief Information Officer. Joe Panora was appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger and Governor Brown to serve as Director of the Enterprise Information Services for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation since January, 2008. Joe retired from state service as the Director of EIS for CDCR in December, 2014. And for the listeners information, I had the privilege of working with Joe at CDCR between 2012 and 2014. During his career, Joe has also held positions at CalTrans, Franchise Tax Board, Employment Development Department, State Controller's Office and California Youth Authority.
Davood Ghods: (01:43)
He is currently the CEO and owner of Panora Associates, where he builds client relationships with the California public sector with emphasis on information technology and state government connections. Joe holds a master's degree in business administration and telecommunications, a bachelor of arts degree in accounting, and is a certified project management professional. Joe, thank you for being on our podcast. With your extensive background in correctional and public safety law enforcement, we want to learn more about you. Please tell us about yourself and for someone who doesn't know about your background, please give us an overview of what you have done and what you're working on these days. Welcome.
Joe Panora: (02:34)
Yeah. Thanks Davood. I really appreciate that. And thank you for the nice and kind introduction. I guess I'll take this one little bit of perspective from the fact that corrections has been, when I worked at corrections - and like you said, I've been retired now for about seven years. We went through a, really a transformation. I mean, at the height, we had 171,000 inmates, 90,000 parolees, you know, a budget of $10 billion, 60,000 employees. And we were really not well automated. And we were having lawsuits, coming from every angle, addressing the different program deficiencies. And with that, unfortunately, you know, came judges and rulings and, decisions that came out that we really needed to re-look how corrections was running their operations. And out of those lawsuits, actually were, were monies that came through finance to really corrected deficiencies.
Joe Panora: (03:36)
And so with that, we had a really, the underpinning of those deficiencies, you had to leverage technology. And so with that, the good, bad, and the ugly is that there were a lot of efforts to modernize corrections. At the height, we probably had close to a billion in active IT projects that were underway. One of it was addressing our financial management system. You know, we implemented an SAP system to really get a better handle on what it was costing to run the department and really, you know, run our financials in a timely matter. That was about $176 million effort. we really didn't have a, an enterprise solution, you know, for our, our offender management from cradle grave of the inmates life cycle. And we had disparate systems that were sitting out in each of the different prisons that really didn't necessarily share and exchange information in the time of the matter.
Joe Panora: (04:28)
And most of the stuff was done paper files where an inmate would move from one prison, and his files would be sent and maybe not arrive at the same time that the inmate arrived. So, went out the bid, awarded the contract to HP Marquee was the, the core software and put in a, a cradle to grave life cycle around the inmate automation that was probably close about 400 million and get rid of all of our paper files as well. But it was before we really even started those projects. The underpinning effort was our infrastructure effort. And with that, you know, you can't build a house if it's not going to be on a strong foundation. So we went through about a $200 million infrastructure project that truly looked at the power, the HVAC, the wide area network inside the prisons, the fiber to data drops to make sure that we had the right infrastructure that these large enterprise applications could be built on and actually run.
Joe Panora: (05:25)
So from that standpoint, I would say that, you know, when I left, you know, corrections really had gone through a technology modernization. Once we had the enterprise systems in place. Now it really set the stage so that now they would have the enterprise data to start really doing the analysis and making informed decisions, predictive, or analytical decisions that would make the prison fund more efficiently as far as what else I've been doing. Really. I think the other things I've been really working on is, is before I left corrections, was really trying to set up seccession planning. And that's not as easy as said it's done, but really was making sure I would bring in the right people for me and the right areas within the it organization and make sure that they could act independently, be self, self driven and run their own little businesses within their verticals within it. So I think at that point, corrections really truly had a, a stellar management team. You were part of that team. We really were built for success so that no matter who left, we had sustainable processes in place.
Davood Ghods: (06:28)
Great. Thank you. Thank you for going into transformation too. I've been debating if I should have a question about digital transformation, because every article you read and every podcast you listen to, they talk about digital transformation. But, it was really technology modernization also that you talked about. And, thanks for going into that. You know, you mentioned cradle to grave, which really what, SOMS was about. And there's now a new project in the state with Department of Education called Cradle to Career. And that term is being used again. So my next question, Joe is about emerging trends. What emerging trends are you seeing in the it and business fields and that we should all be paying more attention to, from your perspective?
Joe Panora: (07:18)
Kind of let me set the stage on this one a little bit, because I really think COVID was a true wake up call for all of us. And what I mean by that is a government as a whole really thought they had done a good job around automation, either automating their services, upgrading, say their, their network performance, addressing say ability to recruit and retain their workforce, you know, addressing, you know, redundancy, disaster recovery, and even business continuity. But when COVID hit, I, I think it really was a wake up call and government as a whole was caught off guard. So that's the bad news, the good news that it created an opportunity for government entities to really reinvent themselves. And I specifically, I would say around delivery of services, innovation, digital services, and best practices. And so when you talk about, you know, say emerging trends, I'm not sure I would call them new.
Joe Panora: (08:18)
They will mature and they'll expand over the next decade, but there are a lot of the technologies that are already here. And when I think of technologies and say the application to those technologies, they're still largely unrealized. And so some perspective, I think we can include older technologies as well as part of emerging technologies. And so when you look at digital services, meeting the customer where they are versus say, having them come into a field office, a physical location, you know, really, truly moving away from paper or them having to use the, the mail system. You know, when you look at decision making, using the tools around machine learning AI, and really, like I mentioned earlier about really, you know, having the data, large data sets across multiple areas where you can really start doing the predictive analysis and making business decisions based off of data.
Joe Panora: (09:15)
I think also out there is robotics. I mean, if you look at plant operations, you know, reducing waste, reducing cost, you can get into the technology of drones and how they could be applied in the government from either a detection or maybe delivering certain, you know, services. I would say these are merging right now. The ones I'm going to talk about next, but I don't think, I don't think they're as, as leveraged as they should be. So think about networks, you know, a lot of us have, you know, robust networks, but we really don't have a fail over network. And if we do, it's be maybe not really a physical diversity fill or network. So you still have a point of failure. And from a back up from recovery, it's really, you know, is it really transparent to the end user, the customer when you have to recover or fail over?
Joe Panora: (10:04)
Or is there really, truly no interruption of service from that standpoint? And then workforce management? I mean, the genie is really out of the bottle. If you think about it, teleworking is here to stay. So when you take a look at emerging trends, you're going to get work done through people. And we are going to have to really use some of these tools and solutions that are out there that allow us to really hire effectively and more timely. And we can hire people, not just bring them to Sacramento per se, or they can be anywhere in the state or you can hire them outside of the state. So you'll have these tools now that you're really going to have to figure out how you're really going to effectively manage your workforce because your business model is changing. 5G is taking us to a whole new level and then it sets the stage, you know, for say internet of things.
Joe Panora: (10:56)
So now you can set the stage for maybe smart cities as we're moving toward, you know, self-driving vehicles, which, as you and I, as we get older, we're probably going to really appreciate that serverless computing. You don't pay for idle capacity biometrics, you know, face and voice and fingerprint, and really kind of knowing that you are who you, you said you are. And so all of those things are emerging technology along with even 3d printing. And they all have applications in, in state government and how they're going to really transform and how they're going to deliver their businesses and how they're going to interact with their, their clients or their citizens. So I think the future's bright, but as you know, government sometimes is, you know, five or 10 years behind to catch up. And so as we move in this direction, these will get more mature. And that's why government kind of has that balance where we're not going to go out there and take a risk on something until it really matures a little bit more. So I think it's encouraging right now.
Davood Ghods: (11:55)
Very encouraging. Thank you for that comprehensive answer. One of the feedback that I'm getting on our podcasts is that it's a great tool for up and coming it leaders to know which areas they need to be focused on. And this question, and this answer was really a good roadmap for anyone who wants to see what the future holds. And my next question, you touched on it a little bit. I think you would agree that adjusting to the pandemic was really challenging for many organizations, if not all. And now everyone is thinking of what the next major disruption like the pandemic is going to be and how can we better be prepared for it. So resiliency is a big topic of conversation these days. What are some examples of resilience that you have seen in the past year or in your career? And what is the one thing now that organizations should be doing to improve resilience?
Joe Panora: (12:55)
We know that the next pandemic or whatever the next catastrophic situation will happen is not if it's just win. So when I think of resiliency, I think of not breaking, you may bend, it may stretch, stretch a little bit, but it doesn't break. And so I look at it minimizing, let's say the damage to your systems and application minimizing the overall disruption to your overall environment. And then really what's true acceptable levels of service either from a planned or from an unplanned perspective. And then proactively, let's say planning for the unexpected. So there's a lot of, you know, upfront work that you need to do. The actions that you can take. I would say, address your likely scenarios. First, don't go after, you know, the, the big catastrophic event, you know, you'll get hung up in that and you won't get the planning and you won't get to an end result.
Joe Panora: (13:52)
So look at your likely scenarios first and shore them up first. Where's your weakest link from your disaster recovery perspective and what I'm seeing in these areas. You gotta really look underneath the hood and then know where your data is. What's the true source of your data. Is it collected? And have you aggregated that data, then understand your systems and applications, know the upstream and know the downstream of the relationships. And then really you have to test and test and test, and you've gotta have the right use cases. You've gotta do a review of lessons learned, and you really, truly need to make sure that you actually restore that it's good data and that you actually can actually fell over and recover. I think, you know, what I'm seeing right now is people are really looking at their, like I said, their foundation, their network, they're really looking at the physical diversity and making sure they truly have a backup and failover.
Joe Panora: (14:50)
I think they're also looking at dynamic recovery and really minimizing, you know, the failover. So it really looks transparent to the end user, as you know, there's been an increased movement to the cloud. I think a lot of people have thought they had moved to the cloud. I think COVID really was a wake up call and that people had not moved to the cloud as aggressively as they thought. And then really looking at your systems and your applications, shoring them up, stress testing them, performance testing them. And then also underneath that all is your workforce. You know, you're going to have to make sure your people are truly trained. They have the right tools. And yet you put 'em through the exercises. So there isn't a panic when the situation occurs, all of those things are efforts that are underway actions that you need to take, but just be prepared because it is going to come. We just don't know when
Davood Ghods: (15:42)
That's right. It's not a matter if, but when. It's a response, that's coming from a guy who's been in the trenches. So thank you. Next question is really about motivation. Joe, at Launch Consulting we always talk about how we are going to get a project done, but we also ask ourselves why we are doing what we are doing. What is your why? In other words, what motivates you in your work?
Joe Panora: (16:10)
Now as an independent business consultant, I really see myself as a bridge between the IT community and the vendor community, more like a trusted advisor back to the IT community, still being seen as one of them, kind of a respected elder in the community. And so what motivates me around this is that it's to really help improve the next generation of IT leaders. And the question would be why. Well, besides making me feel good. But more importantly, hopefully it makes a difference so that the next generation, and when we turn the baton over to the next IT leaders, you know, that the place is actually better off than we left it. And that they're actually stronger leaders than what we were. And so that's my, what motivates me and why. And I think what it, it varies from person to person. I think the light goes on for all of us differently when this hits us, as you move up the, the ladder in different positions, I would say for me, it kind of hit me around middle management and I realized that I truly had an impact on people's lives and their careers.
Joe Panora: (17:20)
And what I mean by that is how I acted. My words or behaviors or actions, all those things had an impact. And if I spent the time and invested in them. But I also learned, I needed to, you know, invest in myself, I needed to learn and grow and take more risk, but more importantly to admit when I made a mistake. So I think as, as leaders, I think we have a responsibility to pay it back, you know, to lead the next generation of leaders better than us. We didn't get to our positions, you know, without others investing in us and taking a chance on us. So at some point it's no longer about us and the awards and recognitions that we may receive. We really need to put that aside and now acknowledge an award and recognize other people for the work that they've done. So, you know, it's really about being human, about helping and giving back and leaving the place better. So that's what motivates me and that's my why.
Davood Ghods: (18:21)
Excellent. Wow. Leaving it better and stronger than you found it, getting the next generation ready. That's a great motivator. Next couple of questions, a few questions are a little personal, the first one is about actually how to inspire your team to be innovative. What inspires innovation on the teams that you've had? What have you done to make them more innovative and inspire innovation?
Joe Panora: (18:49)
Yeah, that's a great question. And I think the key word in that is teams and, you know, it's not individuals, it's, it's a team. When you're talking about teams, I think you really need to set them up for a success. And so some of the core things that you need to have is first, you really need to have the right team, put the right people on the bus, but more importantly, in the right seats. And I know there was a book written about this many years ago, but that's critical - the formation of your team. The right people in the right roles and having a balance of, of different team members that make it collectively stronger than the individual. I also think you have to make sure that you have the right executive sponsorship in place behind the team. And that's from funding, that's from resources and that's to make sure that we have the right, you know, business buy in.
Joe Panora: (19:46)
And then the team really has to have a vision statement and they can create their own vision statement. And that's important for the team to do that because then they own it. They buy into it and then they need to have measurable outcomes that they're, they're marching toward and that are attainable outcomes. And then they also need to understand whatever effort this team is doing, how it is say aligned with the organization's mission and what is the impact it's going to have on the various processes that this product, this team's going to produce interacts with all the way to the end, all the way to the user of that say service. And sometimes, you know, you take the, you take the team out to the customer, to the end product. Who's going to use whatever you're producing and you let them see what the impact is. You take them out to the field office.
Joe Panora: (20:37)
You take them out, say to the prison, you actually see how somebody's going to actually use the product that you're producing, the deliverable that you're producing. It's very empowering when you do that. And then you need to really make sure your team's empowered to make decisions, but more importantly to take, take risk. Yes. And then along that way, you know, you need to reward what I call positive habits and all of us remember the One Minute Manager and sometimes we get so darn busy. We just don't take a minute out just to stop and recognize a positive effort that somebody has done our contribution. And then, you know, we, we need to celebrate success. Now that can be small wins. It can be the big wins, but you know, you need, need to bring the team together and celebrate those successes. Our job is to remove and minimize the bureaucracy and red tape.
Joe Panora: (21:28)
You know, sometimes that can just be a cog in the wheel that just stops everybody and just kills the, the momentum. And so just because it's always done a certain way, or just because there's a certain process that you have to go through, you know, we gotta see if we can minimize that and remove that and streamline it more efficiently. Then we gotta create really what I call a collaborative work environment. You know, people really understand the values. And again, those can be developed by the team as well. I know it's easier said and done, but you gotta keep things fun. Maybe you go out to a bowling alley or maybe you have a volleyball game or a potluck or something to where, you know, you're just having some fun and getting to know people besides this work. And then, you know, you build trust, you know, and, and, and you're doing all these things along the way, you're building trust. And you're making deposits. I know it's not easy to do, but you gotta keep toxic people out. And part of our job is to remove those people that are toxic because you know, our greatest assets really are our people. And I know, you know, this people really want to make a difference. They really want to be valued for their contributions. So if you create the right environment, I think creativity will flow.
Davood Ghods: (22:43)
Yes, exactly. I know that you believed in taking the team to field offices because we visited several prisons, including Folsom San Quentin, and a few others while we were at CDCR. So thank you for that response, Joe, what is something that would surprise people about your background or interests?
Joe Panora: (23:05)
Well, I mean, I got one that I think is funny, but it may not be, but, you know, being the IT Director at Corrections, you know, you're, you're not a peace officer. And so trying to fit in, I made sure that my ring tone on my phone was Johnny Cash. I, I don't know if that was funny or not, but, you know, as, as non-peace officers, we're, we, you know, we tried to fit in because it was truly, was all about bullets, beans, and blankets. And yeah. You know, it wasn't about technology. So that's one thing, I guess the other thing that may surprise, but I consider myself a, a biohacker and you know, what I mean by is, you know, increasing one's healthspan and increasing one's lifespan and, you know, so I'd done, you know, things like stem cells, I'd done ozone treatment, I'd done cryotherapy, infrareds saunas, hyperbaric chambers, earthing, grounding. I wear an aura ring to track, sleep, and I've done measurements, up to 45 different blood biomarkers, through Insight Tracker. So, you know, my thought Davood is, you know, you and I worked a long, long time, you know, and we're at the stage now, we're, you know, we're seasoned. So to me, I just try to take care of myself so that I can be healthy and continue to give back.
Davood Ghods: (24:31)
Good job. That's why you look so young, Joe. My last question, where can people find you and keep tabs on what you're working on and how can people support your work?
Joe Panora: (24:43)
Well, I do have a website, www.PanoraAssociates.com. I'll put a plug in for myself if you're an IT vendor. And you're looking to do business in the state of California, and you're looking for somebody to help you and independent consultant reach out to me. But more importantly, you know, if you're a, a government employee and you want this to have a conversation with a former CIO, no charge, and you just want to have a discussion, bounce, some things off of me, then give me a call. Because I know Davood, when you and I were moving up through the chain, it was always nice to have somebody to reach out, to and have a conversation and get some advice. And so to me, again, that's my way of giving back and mentoring and coaching. And so I love to do that.
Davood Ghods: (25:28)
Yes. Excellent. Thank you so much for joining us today, Joe. Thank you. All the listeners out there for joining us as well. We will see you in the next episode of Davood For Thought, where we will shed more light on the human side of tech.
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