Features

Denise Figueroa – Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

CTO helps Oklahoma Insurance Department upgrade ‘Sooner’ than later

Denise Figueroa had to look up Oklahoma on a map when she applied to work for the state’s Office of Management and Enterprise Services in 2021.

When she got the call for an interview, she asked twice about where they were calling from because she hadn’t expected a response. Then, when she got the job as OMES chief technology officer for the Oklahoma Department of Veterans Affairs, she shipped her car from her native Puerto Rico to Florida and drove to Oklahoma City in one of the worst winter storms to ever hit the Southwest and Southeast U.S.

Denise Figueroa | Chief Technology Officer Oklahoma Insurance Department | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

Denise Figueroa | Chief Technology Officer Oklahoma Insurance Department | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

Because many family members, including her grandfather and uncles, served in the military, Figueroa says helping veterans appealed to her. But this year, she’s learning about insurance as OMES transferred her to become CTO for the Oklahoma Insurance Department in February. Now, she’s tasked with upgrading and updating its information technology infrastructure, including the venerable IBM AS/400 mainframe that’s been in use for decades.

But as she settles into a new and unexpected role, Figueroa says the approach she’s brought to her work in IT for 25 years is guiding her efforts to transform the department.

“I would say the most important part of my professional endeavors is that I’m a change agent,” she says. “I can support current operations while changing to the new. I have been doing this pretty much my whole professional life.”

Cloud first

OMES was created by the Oklahoma Legislature as the state’s central services agency in 2011. Its divisions oversee areas including capital assets management, central accounting and reporting, central purchasing, and information services—where it provides chief technology officers for many of the state’s largest agencies.

Among its duties, OID licenses insurance agents and companies and oversees bonding by insurance companies. It investigates fraud complaints, operates its real estate appraiser board, and licenses and regulates Oklahoma’s bail bondsmen. The department, which has about 125 employees, has offices in Oklahoma City and Tulsa and also assists citizens who’ve suffered damages from natural disasters such as tornadoes.

Denise Figueroa | Chief Technology Officer Oklahoma Insurance Department | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

OID was exempted from joining OMES’ Information Services Division but voluntarily consolidated with it in 2022. Doing so allows the state and department to grow their purchasing power, expand standardization in operations such as statewide common telecommunications systems and programs and increase network security. It also enables OID to better link with partner government agencies, although Figueroa was still evaluating how the AS/400 mainframe computer could continue to be of some service.

“The [AS/400] is essential to OID’s operations,” she says. “Any transition needs to occur without losing information, preserving the integrity of the data, while simultaneously conducting daily transactions.”

Culture and tech changes

Figueroa is currently guiding the migration to a cloud environment managed by a global digital services provider. The service agreement to be signed will be a good choice to manage a cloud environment compatible with the programs and will add security for OID information and citizen data.

She expects the cloud migration will be finished by the first quarter of the coming fiscal year that began July 1 and is working with OID leadership on how to modernize operations. They have already been surveying department staff about its processes and operations and the results will be provided to an independent consultant that has yet to be engaged.

Denise Figueroa | Chief Technology Officer Oklahoma Insurance Department | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

Figueroa says part of the streamlining must include greater internal and external information sharing, such as quicker communications with law enforcement officials who need to verify insurance information during traffic stops.

She says the transformation will also bring a culture shift to the department and its operations as processes, procedures and technology are modernized over the coming fiscal years.

Working without boundaries

Figueroa says she’s an engineer at heart and took electrical, civil and mechanical engineering courses as she earned her bachelor’s degree in computer engineering from the University of Puerto Rico – Mayaguez. She also earned a professional certificate in project management from the University of New Orleans and a master’s degree in construction management from the Polytechnic University of Puerto Rico.

Her work in IT has spanned the public and private sectors and industries including health care, higher education, finance and telecommunications. She’s also taught at colleges and universities in Puerto Rico and the Washington, D.C., area.

In Puerto Rico, Figueroa was the manager for broadband marketing for the then-Centennial of Puerto Rico (now AT&T), CTO for the largest campus of the University of Puerto Rico system and had IT leadership roles at Puerto Rico Medical Center.

Denise Figueroa | Chief Technology Officer Oklahoma Insurance Department | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

In September 2013, she came to the U.S. as manager of information systems and construction projects for MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute just outside Washington, D.C. She joined Sentrillion, of Reston, Virginia, in October 2016 as senior projects manager supporting the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s projects. She then returned to Puerto Rico in February 2017 to serve as CIO and IT projects manager for the government’s Office of Management and Budget.

In January 2019, Figueroa became CIO for the University of Puerto Rico’s retirement system and was promoted to chief operations officer that August. She guided the change from a 40-year-old mainframe-based operation to modern, comprehensive and secure technologies to improve the system’s accountability and efficiency. She held that position until joining OMES.

“Technology knows no boundaries. It’s people that are the common denominator,” Figueroa says. “The one thing you have to understand working in government is that you see people working long hours going far and beyond duties to support the agency and customers.”

View this feature in the Summer I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: July 20, 2023

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