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14 min read

Ohio DoDD: Interview With Director Jeff Davis And CIO, Edward Carr

ohio department of developmental disabilities

“You must start with the most basic of human traits; that’s how you treat people.”

John Gambill, interviewed the Director of the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities, Jeff Davis. They were joined by the CIO of Ohio DoDD, Edward Carr.

Offering support across the lifespan of people with developmental disabilities, the Ohio Department of Developmental Disabilities oversees a statewide system of supportive services that focus on assuring health and safety, supporting access to community participation, and increasing opportunities for meaningful employment.

More than 90,000 Ohioans access services by working with their county board of developmental disabilities, direct support professionals, and provider agencies for the support they need to live the life they want.

Director Davis: Thanks for having us, please give me some background on all that [VC3] is doing.

John: We’ve been in business since 1997. We are a Managed IT provider here in Ohio, located in Warren County. We’ve done a lot of work with small-to-large businesses, as well as in the local government space with townships, municipalities, counties, and government organizations.

Since 2013, we’ve been completely focused on helping those serving individuals with developmental disabilities. We work with County Boards, Independent Providers and Agencies, and the vendors and businesses that support them. We handle everything that pertains to their information technology.

Our service is available to them in two capacities… either as a full Managed IT Services Provider where all of the information technology needs are outsourced to us, or in a Co-Managed Service Provider capacity where we work directly with their IT staff to give them an entire team to supplement their needs.

What makes us different from any other IT service company is that we’re focused on, committed to, and vastly experienced in working with those who serve individuals with developmental disabilities. We understand the software they work with, the challenges they face, their missions, their need for efficiency, and we assist in the areas of regulations, compliance, and HIPAA.

The outcome is we help them:

  • Reduce risk
  • Be more efficient
  • Be in line with compliance with regulations
  • Get their time back
  • Focus on what matters most, which is helping the individuals they serve

Director Davis, Please Tell Us About Your Background And What Brought You To Ohio DODD?

Director Davis: I started right across the street in the Ohio State House in the mid to late eighties. Megan Manuel’s father (Jerry Manuel) hired me in 1991 (Megan is the Superintendent of the Warren County Board of Developmental Disabilities); I was hired by the DoDD when the new Governor was coming in, and they were looking for a legislative liaison director. In my case, it was a fortunate opportunity. This started my passion.

Jerry was prophetic and told me that when people first interact with our system professionally, they’ll know right away if this is what they want to do or not. For those who do, they tend to spend their lifetime in the system. He was spot on, and this applies to me as well. That’s the magic that happens, and it’s been my good fortune to be here.

John: I see that every day with the people we are fortunate to work with and the passion our team has when working with those who serve the developmentally disabled.

On a personal note, my wife is a Campus Director at the Warren County Career Center. She has overseen all the special needs programs for several years, including working with Project Search. It’s one of the highlights of her career in education.

It’s part of why I’m personally passionate about working with those who serve the developmentally disabled.

Director Davis: I spent 16 years as the department’s Deputy Director. Then I had the opportunity to spend four years with a Medicaid Managed Care Plan, where we worked on the integration of physical and behavioral health at the Buckeye Community Health Plan.

Then I had the good luck to receive a call from the Ohio Provider Resource Association (OPRA); they asked if I would consider coming “home to the family” so to speak and represent providers. I had this wonderful opportunity for eight years.

Then Governor Dewine was kind enough to think of me; this was when I became Director of The Ohio DoDD where I am today. In my case, it’s all been delightful and an experience I wouldn’t change.

What Are The Biggest Challenges Facing County Boards, Providers, And Agencies?

Director Davis: I’ll start with some bigger goals and let Ed tell you the specifics about IT. We’re so fortunate to have Ed working with us.

I believe in the value of culture and environments. As professionals in a system, we can always get better. But you must start with the most basic of human traits; that’s how you treat people. Our system like others, we work to always be kind and gentle. This was our message right off the bat; as professionals, it’s a skillset.

We started out doing this with respect to customer service and how we interact with our customers daily. I’m pleased to say that we’re on our journey and we’ve received a lot of positive response. This is all in line with Governor Dewine’s message. It’s what he expects and what I expect.

We take this approach throughout the entire system. It’s about building skillsets; we must help our partners at the local level whether they be County Boards, SSAs, providers, whatever niche that they fill. We work to help them build their skills.

From there, you build the services that our customers need. It’s a foundational approach. You can’t reaffirm enough that the foundational ways that you act as a professional mean more than anything else; so, you must nurture and support it. This is the path we’re on.

The way Ed approaches things with IT is so much in sync with what we’re doing in this respect. Your audience would really appreciate the way Ed is building his team and setting up a structure.

Ed: Thank you for the opportunity to speak here and thank you, Director Davis. This has been an exciting time; I just joined the team in March of this year (2019).

One of the first things for me is to establish a foundation where business and IT are appropriately connected. This starts with governance. I found there were a lot of good IT initiatives, but the business ones weren’t appropriately prioritized and getting the attention they deserved.

So, I knew Director Davis supported instituting governance, and today we’re up to 25 business-driven priorities. I’m on the Governance Committee and function as a subject matter expert. I don’t have a voting interest but can help the members with their selection and prioritization. I don’t let IT artificially drive these business priorities.

Team building is important to me. I give people the opportunity to do their best every day. I often used this analogy: When you’re on an airplane, you’re instructed in an emergency to first put the mask on yourself and then on others. If you don’t take care of yourself first, you’re not going to be able to help others. I wanted to make sure we had a strong foundation first so we could come through on the promises and commitments that we make to our customers.

Director Davis has supported creating a Business Architect position and filling our key positions on the team to help make sure we have the right leadership in place to build the team culture that we desire.

The Director has been very clear about working closely with our stakeholders, so we’ve created a meeting cadence with our stakeholder community to get their input. These are people from the County Boards, OACB, and even third-party vendors.

We incorporate organizational change management practices because the changes we make to our systems don’t just impact us; they have an impact on everyone. I feel that we’re still in the very early stages of making progress, and I’m very excited about the things that we’re going to be able to talk about down the road.

John: My personal perspective from what you tell us is getting that input on the ground from your stakeholders is so important. And I praise your efforts. Being in the trenches, we see the impact you make on those County Boards. It impacts their efficiency and utilization. We appreciate you getting this input, and we’re always happy to help.

We work with both large and small counties and their providers, and one thing we see is the need to understand just how important IT is; that it’s a layer that touches everything they do daily to deliver services.

This is especially important now that governments are being targeted by hackers and bad actors. One of the things we provide is Security Awareness Training for all our clients that includes simulated phishing, along with Dark Web scanning and monitoring. I talked about this in the presentation I gave at OACB, and that I’ll be presenting at OPRA. We must take our weakest link, our humans, and turn them into our best defense.

As I’m sure Ed can appreciate, you can put in the best, most expensive technology in the world and one human can make a mistake and circumvent all of that.

Ed: That is a challenging area, and through unintentional or malicious acts, the fact of the matter is, if someone who works for you holds the keys to the system, and they are phished, this can lead to a very bad situation and compromise information. It goes where we don’t want it to go. Worst case scenario is when a bad actor gets in and gets elevated privileges and we don’t notice this for a long time.

Fortunately, we have services and systems that protect us. But, at the end of the day, we need people to do the right things. We have sound systems in place, but we’re always looking for new ways to increase our cybersecurity.

John: We also work to help our clients be on a better compliance footing and to be prepared. Eagle Consulting Partners, who we have been through a compliance audit with, just did a risk assessment of Warren County Board of Developmental Disabilities; they found that Warren County had the single lowest risk score of any organization they ever worked with.

Eagle is doing a whitepaper on this and how [VC3] has impacted getting Warren County to this point. A lot of this can be attributed to the leadership there, and the top-down driven setting of expectations much like you both have been talking about. It was nice to hear from Eagle that we were making a difference.

Director Davis, What Would You Recommend For County Boards And DD-Related Organizations To Help Them Better Serve Individuals?

Director Davis: You could start and stop with empathy. But if you want to do more, start by thinking about the kinds of collaborations that are necessary; whether they’re business partners, other counties, or providers; even providers with other providers. And certainly, we want to have a good relationship with our County Boards and providers. We have a lot of assets, including staff assets, to help counties and providers build the skillsets that are necessary to succeed.

John: Would you agree that funding is one of the challenges these organizations face daily?

Director Davis: Of course, this is absolutely correct. In today’s world, whether I’m a County Board looking for good case managers, business managers, and more, that front line management and mid-line management is essential. The biggest problem we face is workforce.

Every employer across this country is faced with the issue of finding the quality and reliable workforce that they need. This hits us in an acute way. Everybody is working on it.

We just came off a budget where we put money into provider residential hire rates to help with the direct support wages. However, we must work with a new and continuing norm, and that is the lack of available workforce.

John: Yes, you must invest in your people and keep them happy. The generation coming up now seems to enjoy more about the experience and the “why” and not the “how” of what they’re doing.

Director Davis: They also respond differently to management. I would hazard to guess that the younger generation responds in different ways to management and leadership. We must be attentive to this. It’s on the ground where it matters the most and is often the hardest.

John: I recently spoke with the head of Edoc Service, a vendor to DD organizations, and they are using remote workers to keep their workforce up to speed.

Director Davis: In the Governor’s cabinet meeting this morning, we talked about this. One of our sister agencies, the Department of Transportation, highlighted what happens when you can’t find outside workers.

What seems to be happening on the ground is that we must work people overtime more and more because of the vacancies in job positions. Unfortunately, we’re destroying that work-life balance out of necessity. Ultimately, we’ll lose these people if this continues so we must work collectively to figure this out. What you’re saying is real and valuable, and we all know this.

John: We face the workforce challenge here too, but I didn’t know this was one of your biggest challenges. It’s not just the challenge of employees viewing work differently, I have to imagine that the individuals they serve also view life differently and want to interact with those people on their terms; not just on a standard day time only basis.

Ed, What Is Your Background?

Ed: I’ve been working for the State of Ohio since June of 1992. I worked as a developer in IT and got into management in 1999. Prior to joining DoDD, I was the CIO for the Public Utilities Commission, and as I said earlier, I joined as CIO here in March of this year (2019).

I spent a number of years as an IT Audit Chief, which gave me an internal perspective into the 26 different state agencies, and an understanding of how their IT shops were working. This controls-based perspective has been invaluable to me as a CIO.

I’ve always worked on team building and culture, trying to understand how people can work together to build a strong foundation for what business and IT need. As you said earlier, business and IT are intertwined and are one and the same.

The new generation coming grew up with technology. They’re less tolerant when someone says you can’t get to that information. They know better. It’s not a question of if I can do it but “why can’t I do it?”

We continually work on our IT Roadmap; here’s where we are today, where do we want to be in three to five years from now, and ten years from now? The core service we offer is fundamental. The burdens we can remove through technology are a key contributor to improving the overall health of the system.

John: How you deliver and protect IT will change as we go forward. We try to be as proactive as possible, but sometimes these bad actors and hackers put you into a reactive mode. Educating your people in IT Security Awareness as we said is key.

We talk about the “younger generation,” but the retirement generation will also have expectations when it comes to technology. We need to think about how we can help them with technology at retirement homes, assisted living facilities and at home, wherever it may be. These challenges are far-reaching.

We also provide a strategic IT role with our clients to take them from where they are now to 3 and 5 years down the road; developing an IT Roadmap for them to follow.

From a private-sector approach, I commend you all in taking this true leadership role.

Last Question, Do You Have Any Advice For A Vendor Trying To Benefit County Boards And DD-Related Organizations and Businesses?

Director Davis: I’m glad you used the word vendor, as I’ve been thinking about this. In today’s world with things changing so rapidly, as a Superintendent or CEO, I would be on alert for new ways to do things and I would want to have vendors come in to talk to me, see what services they have, and to help me think differently. You shouldn’t be shy to listening to people that have services to offer that just might spark something you want to do. You just have to think differently.

Ed: People need to seek out information and better ways to do things. For you specifically, you obviously have a passion and commitment for what you are doing there. Share that and let them know there is a way to relieve some of the burden of the many things they are responsible for doing.

John: We really appreciate the time you both spent speaking with us about your vision and challenges. Thank you so much.

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