Brandon Gibson, Chief Operating Officer to the Tennessee Governor

May 10, 2023 NASCIO Episode 95
Brandon Gibson, Chief Operating Officer to the Tennessee Governor
Show Notes Transcript

What does the role of the chief operating officer to a governor look like? Alex and Amy talk with Brandon Gibson about her role as Governor Lee's COO, what she does and her close relationship with CIO Stephanie Dedmon. 


Amy Glasscock, Alex Whitaker, Brandon Gibson


Amy Glasscock  00:05

Hi, and welcome to NASCIO voices where we talk all things state it. I'm Amy Glasscock in Lexington, Kentucky. 


Alex Whitaker  00:11

I'm Alex Whitaker in Washington, DC today on the podcast. We're talking to Brandon Gibson, chief operating officer for Tennessee governor. Brandon is certainly the first state chief operating officer we've interviewed. So we're excited to hear what she has to say. Let's get to it. Brandon, welcome to NASCIO voices. And thanks so much for joining us today. 


Brandon Gibson  00:30

Thanks for having me. It's great to be here. 


Alex Whitaker  00:32

Yeah, Brandon, thanks so much. But you know, before we dive into the work that you're doing in Tennessee, can you tell us about your background and how you became the chief operating officer for Governor Lee's office? 


Brandon Gibson  00:42

Sure, first of all, I would have never dreamed 20 years ago, I'd be sitting where I am. But every single day that my keycard opens my door at the at the state capitol. I'm thankful for the opportunity to be here, doing what I do, and serving citizens the way that the state is able to do that. I started as a lawyer, I'm a lawyer by trade, practice law for a number of years and then applied to be appointed to the Court of Appeals in our state. We've got 12 judges on the court of appeals 12 judges on the Court of Criminal Appeals, statewide and appointed by the Governor and I applied, and Governor Haslam appointed me to the Court of Appeals, I think we have a civic responsibility to say yes. And so I did. And I have a global pandemic and a few natural disasters and other issues later, here we are. 


Alex Whitaker  01:57

Got it. Yeah, that's really interesting. I think one of the things we always love to hear on our podcast is how people come into their roles. And certainly a lot of folks are not didn't didn't really expect it as their dream job when they were eight or nine years old. But it's funny how people come into things. So tell us more about the role of the COO, what are your priorities? And how do you define success in the role?


Brandon Gibson  02:16

So that's a great question. Let me let me just say that defining success can be really difficult, because so much of what you do is try to help facilitate the success of others within the organization. So in Tennessee, we have 23, different cabinet level agencies, and managing all of the things associated with those 23 agencies can be a big task for any governor. So my priorities are really to help facilitate departments work, and to make sure that they are successful. So it's everything from strategic planning, to budgeting, to employee performance issues. And then I serve as sort of a secondary partner, and the legislative initiatives and legislation that runs through the General Assembly, my personal priorities for the role, and it's been different for every CEO who served here in Tennessee, but mine is sort of making collaboration a cornerstone of good and effective and efficient government, artment in some way. 


Alex Whitaker  05:02

Got it. Thank you. That's really helpful. 


Amy Glasscock  05:03

Yeah, I think so many important lessons learned during COVID across the states for sure. So correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe our research indicates that Tennessee was the first state to have a chief operating officer in the governor's office. How do you think the role has evolved over time? And how have things changed for you since you began your tenure?


Brandon Gibson  05:25

Right, so Tennessee was the first state to have a co Governor Bill Haslam, Governor Lee's predecessor instituted the role and really is a I think, a model for the for the country. And we see a lot more operating officers or administrative officers, or in some states, they're called transformation officers popping up in governor's offices, I think maybe there are 18 states at this point that have this role or an equivalent role in the governor's office, when the roll began. In Tennessee, I think the primary impetus behind its creation was for strategic planning purposes, and to reform the state's civil service system. As that has evolved over time, there's a need to continue to maintain those programs, that strategic planning the quarterly meetings, checking, and making sure that key performance metrics are met and those types of things. But maintaining those, those programs has been an important component. But as the organization becomes accustomed to that those relatively new processes, it's also an opportunity for the CEOs office to branch out a little bit and to focus on a few other things, like I mentioned, on the the collaboration between departments to solve big problems. 


Amy Glasscock  06:58

Yeah, that's great. That sounds so much like what our chief information officers in the states are trying to do on a daily basis as well, you know, reaching across all of those agencies and trying to bring people together and solving problems on a bigger scale and not in a siloed way. So so many similarities there. And that said, we do want to ask some sort of technology related questions. And so the first one of those is, with all of your experience, as well as your background in state government. How would you say technology influences or impacts how the state provides services to its citizens?


Brandon Gibson  07:35

So let me go back to my days on the Court of Appeal. When I started on the Court of Appeals, the judge that I replaced, who retired, his assistant received his emails, she printed them, put them on his desk, if he wrote a response, she typed the response, and she then hit send on the email. But that was in 2014. Oh, my goodness. So it's not that long ago. And the court system did not have any type of E filing system documents were not scanned, there were banker's boxes worth of files that came with each with each new case that came through the judges offices, no telling how much money we spent FedExing and shipping records across the state from one judge to another. And in four years, I was able to see a change from everything being on paper to all of the judges on the intermediate appellate court, having an app had knowing how to use the iPad, and having an E filing system for the appellate courts. I saw how fast that change happened. But how much our customers which were the litigants, and the lawyers involved, appreciated that efficiency. I was also able to see that that efficiency translated into faster decisions, because no one was waiting for the banker's box of records to appear in their office before they reviewed an opinion and got an opinion out for that for the litigants. So I got to see a little view of it. When I left the court of appeals, I actually came to work for the governor as his senior adviser, not a COO, I became COO in May of 2020. But you recognize how important technology can be just to the way we work. And then fast forward to being in this role. I recognize how convenient it is for someone to be able to renew their driver's license online instead of taking time off from work to go sit in a in a driver's Testing Center. are individuals who might be unemployed need to be able to just log on and, and confirm their their their work requirements or search for a job instead of taking that precious time that they should be searching for a job and sitting in a state office somewhere. So it truly that efficiency translates to money for citizens. And it also translates to efficiency for government. I've said this before, our customers who are our citizens, expect to be able to do things on their telephone, they expect to be able to access state services on their phone, just like they can pay bills on their phone, we can send and receive money on our phone, and we can have literally the entire world at our fingertips. Government has to keep up with that expectation. Because those customers, those citizens are our customers, and we need to deliver what they expect. And it helps that it is is cost effective and more efficient for us as well. 


Amy Glasscock  11:07

Yeah, absolutely. 


Alex Whitaker  11:09

Yeah, that's really interesting. And you know, I think for so long DMVs have gotten such a bad rap is inefficient. But if you look now, I mean, across the country, there's so many of them are really leading the way in improving the customer experience. So it's really great to see like technology impacting that. So that's very cool. But speaking of technology, Tennessee has an incredible CIO in Stephanie Dedmon, who also happens to be NASCIO president, can you tell us about your relationship with her office and how you all work together? 


Brandon Gibson  11:34

Yes. So I'm so thankful for Stephanie. And for the work that she does, those those folks who are behind the scenes often don't receive the credit that they're due. And she deserves a lot of it. Let me let me go back to our my COVID example from earlier, Stephanie's team pulled off a hat trick when we had to send employees home and needed to really transition to remote work. Within days, maybe it was weeks, but it felt like days, Stephanie and her team had laptops in the hands of people who didn't already have a laptop assigned to them. And from a citizen perspective,



they didn't really notice any difference in services, whether our employees were in the office or out of the office. And that's really important that they never saw a disruption in the way we conduct business. That is all a result of Stephanie's work, and the technology space. So Stephanie, interact a lot, because as you can imagine, there are a lot of legacy systems within state government that were in the process of replacing in a variety of departments. And then Stephanie and I, actually co chair, our state Cybersecurity Council, which is a great opportunity for us to really engage with departments as well as agencies that are not within the executive branch, to make sure we're all working in the same direction when it comes to cybersecurity.


Brandon Gibson  13:11

I don't know what I would do without Stephanie, we have a shared services sub cabinet that she's very involved with, of course, IT touches every single department just like real estate touches every single department. And so giving her a voice in that group is is a really important component of what we do. And is is more of that collaboration as a cornerstone of site government. 


Alex Whitaker  13:37

Yeah, that's great to hear. I mean, we, we also feel like we might be lost at times without Stephanie. So not surprised to hear that. Exactly. Great. So you know, there's so much happening in the world of technology right now. And it feels like every few months, there's some new technology that we're reading about or learning about. So I would love to know what trends in it and tech are you most excited about in the coming years and which ones are making you maybe a little more anxious.


Brandon Gibson  14:05

So the trends that I see movement to the cloud where everything is really accessible for folks, regardless of where their duty station might be horse, Tennessee has a very long state, it takes a long time to get from Memphis to Mountain City. But the transition to the cloud is something that's very exciting to me, as well as just improved, continuing to improve the services that we provide to citizens. As I said, our citizens are our customers and they expect ease and convenience. And the more we can do that, the better. I'm also really excited about the possibility to link systems that haven't been linked in the past. It really seems inefficient to me when a citizen has to go through multiple application processes and fill out the the exact same information in three different places, whether they're applying for benefits, or they're applying for a license. And so we're working through ways that we can, you know, have a single portal for that basic information and be a citizen be able to import it easily into whatever the next thing they are doing as far as their interaction with state government. So anything that makes a customer's life easier is something that excites me. The things that make me anxious I mentioned earlier, this our cybersecurity counsel, that causes me a little bit of angst, I worry a little bit about protecting our sensitive data. Again, it's all about the customer. And we want to be conscious and thoughtful about how we secure their information, and how we ensure that our systems continue to run that we have redundancies in place, that if we have a system failure, for some reason, we are still able to operate in our customers never notice a disruption. The other thing that really causes me some anxiety is state government being able to keep up with the speed of technology. Things change so quickly. And our state government, not every not every state is this way. But our state government passes a budget once a year. I know there are states where a budget is passed only once every two years. But ours passes one once a year. And if you don't get in that budget cycle, then you wait an entire year before you might have an appropriation to update a system, replace a system. Andtechnology moves much faster than that, the procurement while I'm a huge fan of our procurement processes, because we want to protect our taxpayers dollars. It can be laborious, and it can it can sometimes slow down the process. And technology isn't slowing down with us. So just being able to keep up with the pace can sometimes be really difficult. And that causes a good bit of anxiety for me. 


Alex Whitaker  17:24

Yeah, that's really helpful. Thanks. 


Amy Glasscock  17:25

Yeah. So that wraps up the main interview portion of our podcast. But something that we always like to do with our guests at the end of the show is to recognize that we're all so much more than just our work. So we'd like to ask you three questions about your life outside of work and a segment we call the lightning round. Are you ready? 


Brandon Gibson  17:47

I'm ready. 


Alex Whitaker  17:49

All right. So Nashville is the Music City. What's the best live concert that you've been to? 


Brandon Gibson  17:54

Zac Brown Band Played at Bridgestone Arena on my birthday in 2021. And it was the comeback from COVID. And it was 20 of my friends came and it was the best birthday and the best live music concert I've been to in a long time. 


Amy Glasscock  18:14

That's awesome. That's great. I remember that summer of 2021. When I felt like we kept like, go do things again. It just was the best feeling so yeah, I can imagine having having a big birthday celebration like that felt great. Okay, speaking of feeling great. What are you feeling grateful for right now? 


Brandon Gibson  18:31

Sunshine and warm weather! 


Amy Glasscock  18:34

Me too.


Alex Whitaker  18:38

And what is your favorite takeout meal? 


Brandon Gibson  18:40

Well, I think my Tennessee citizenship card would probably be revoked if I didn't say barbecue.


Amy Glasscock  18:48

Awesome. And then what is that? How would you describe Tennessee barbecue? Because I know that barbecue means different things in different places. 


Brandon Gibson  18:55

How I would describe it is that it's the best on the planet. 


Amy Glasscock  18:59

That's probably the right answer. All right. Well, Brandon, thanks again for taking the time to chat with us. It's always so interesting to hear about what's going on in the states and especially in a role like yours, so we really appreciate your time. 


Alex Whitaker  19:15

Thank you. 


Brandon Gibson  19:15

Thank you so much. 


Amy Glasscock  19:17

Thanks again for listening to NASCIO voices. NASCIO voices is a production of the National Association of State chief information officers or NASCIO. 


Alex Whitaker  19:27

And we enjoyed seeing everyone in our Mid Year Conference in Maryland last week. Save the date for annual conference October 8 through 11th in Minneapolis. 


Amy Glasscock  19:34

We'll be back in two weeks. Talk to you then