Features

Jalen Byford – Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

IT director shatters stereotypes about public vs. private sector

For months, tacked above Jalen Byford’s desk at the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services was a huge map of Oklahoma that he got from the state tourism department. Byford had plastered it with pushpins and Post-it notes denoting places where he had already installed technicians as well as places where he still needed to hire them.

Byford put the map up soon after he became IT director of end-user services at OMES in Oklahoma City in 2022. It was part of an ambitious strategy to shatter the stereotype of public-sector agencies as lumbering and anemic compared to their private-sector Fortune 500 counterparts.

Jalen Byford | IT Director, End User Services | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

Jalen Byford | IT Director, End User Services | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

“What we were doing, first and foremost, was really to correct that—in the sense that we were providing service to state employees, who in turn support citizens, efficiently and strategically, placing technicians throughout the entire state, within a radius of 40 miles of every single agency,” Byford says. “Our major cities were fairly easy. But it took a lot of planning, and it took a lot of work to source tech talent in rural towns, including collaborating with state-awarded staffing suppliers.”

From the panhandle to the southern counties bordering Texas and Louisiana, Byford recruited technicians to join the state. All told, he did upwards of 275 interviews between August 2022 and the summer of 2023. Part of his pitch: Technicians working in state government have the chance to make a difference every day in the lives of their neighbors—be it by ensuring faster processing at the Department of Motor Vehicles or by enabling people to access childcare benefits, food stamps and domestic violence resources from the Department of Human Services.

Four months later, he had put so many technicians in place that there was “nothing left to do but take that map down,” he says.

Before Byford took over—and before the state legislature greenlit a plan to bring end-user services back under the state’s umbrella, as opposed to outsourcing the function—there were about 30 technicians scattered across Oklahoma. Today, Byford oversees 97 of them, a workforce able to service every agency in each of the state’s 77 counties.

Staffing and equipping

Staffing up was just one aspect of Byford’s new technology roadmap. When the state legislature appropriated the funds to move it ahead last year, legislators had a particular game plan in mind: a new customer-centric service model that would help state employees, and by extension, citizens, in a way the state had never previously done.

“The goal was really to provide an excellent experience to state employees, so people would feel good about submitting a ticket or calling the help desk—and if they needed to get a new PC, they wouldn’t be thinking, ‘Oh, well, I’ll get my PC in two months,’” Byford says. “I want to provide the best possible experience across the board; it doesn’t matter if it’s state government.”

Jalen Byford | IT Director, End User Services | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

Another piece of the roadmap was equipment procurement for all state employees. For instance, Byford and his team have been making sure devices leaving the Dell warehouse are already imaged and ready to go. They like to have equipment ready for state employees and to have it arrive with all applications ready to use after several hours of configuration—not days or weeks, as had previously been the case.

“That really was a big piece to make things much more efficient—our end goal being that we actually are trying to get equipment stood up,” Byford says. “If we ever had a repeat of COVID-19, the state would be in a very good position should we need to deploy laptops directly to state employees. We could do that, and it would not be a monumental feat.”

Fine-tuning deployment

When he spoke to Toggle this summer, Byford and his team were in the final stages of fine-tuning their deployment processes. The state follows an industry-standard refresh cycle in which laptops are up for renewal every three years. Many of the agencies that got new laptops when the COVID-19 pandemic struck had been asking for new ones, he says.

DHS, for example, was in the process of refreshing 6,000 laptops starting this summer. Byford’s division partnered with DHS and scheduled appointments in hub locations to work one-on-one with every single employee and get the new laptops fully configured. They kicked off the official refresh in mid-July, starting in Oklahoma City, and will then move on to Tulsa and some of the mid-sized cities, such as McAlester. Byford says this project should be completed in December.

Jalen Byford | IT Director, End User Services | Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services

“The biggest thing on my radar right now is the deployment and the refreshes, and making sure that we’re able to accommodate, we’re able to support the agencies and get them upgraded quickly and satisfactorily,” Byford says.

In the past, there were omissions and gaps—software that was not installed, functions that were not configured. According to Byford, people complained that they got new laptops that didn’t work. So, he and his team incorporated that feedback into an improved service model.

“It does take a little bit more time, but I think that little bit more time that we’re spending up front pays for itself because these employees are not having to call back to open another ticket,” he says. “So even though it’s a little more work for us, it really pays off.”

Putting the pieces together

Byford earned his bachelor’s in psychology from Florida State University, where he also studied performance management and communications, in 1999. He launched his career at Sprint Nextel, serving as a technical support representative and then as a program manager until 2007 when he became a technical sales executive at FutureDial.

In 2013, Byford joined Oklahoma Heart Hospital as an IT support specialist. He rose through the ranks to become director of information technology support services in 2020. In August 2022, he assumed his current role at the Oklahoma Office of Management and Enterprise Services.

“Really, what I absolutely love is being able to put the pieces together, to see that everything that is being stood up and designed and implemented is making the state government experience for our constituents better,” he says. “Just knowing that we’re making a difference is definitely the most rewarding piece of this job.”

View this feature in the Fall I 2023 Edition here.

Published on: August 29, 2023

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