A quick study
- By Judi Hasson
- Jul 22, 2002
Mayi Canales, acting chief information officer at the Treasury Department, is at the center of a storm these days, and that's exactly where she likes to be.
In her office half a block from the White House, Canales gets to work by 7 a.m. to start a 12-hour day making sure information technology at one of the largest federal agencies is on the cutting edge.
"I love my job," Canales said. "It's different every day. One day, I'm making decisions about what the trade community is going to get next year. One day, I'm sitting on a team looking at homeland security options. The next day, I'm figuring out how to help a factory make coins and dollar bills."
But it hasn't always been easy. Since taking the helm as the acting CIO in April from her boss, Jim Flyzik, who is now detailed to the Office of Homeland Security, Canales has worked tirelessly on a reorganization — one that will cost the jobs of 40 percent of the IT professionals under her watch. Her IT staff will drop from 200 to about 125 by this fall. But she expects to find other jobs for everybody in other agencies or at Treasury.
"This is the tough part," she said in a July 15 interview.
There will be a departmentwide re- engineering effort in the near future, but she said her office is the first to feel the effects as she reassesses functions and works to build a foundation at Treasury for e-government. She is focusing on three areas — capital planning, security and enterprise architecture.
She plans to model the CIO office's organization on the Transportation Security Administration, which issued a statement of objectives in June for a more than $1 billion IT infrastructure. The plan emphasizes managed services, in which an agency pays a company for technology solutions for a particular problem.
"What I want to end up with is a strong program and contract managers who understand IT and have an IT background but are more program and contract managers so they understand the business," Canales said. "They understand business cases. They understand the enterprise architecture. They are solutions architects."
Nevertheless, even with the best planning, Canales said she will still have areas where she does not have the right staff with the right skill sets. And that's where outsourcing comes in.
Canales said competitive sourcing is the way she intends to approach all contracts. In the fall, she will put out an umbrella contract seeking the best prices for telecommunications services, Web development and seat management.
"In fiscal , we'll have outsourcing opportunities. I'm looking at total outsourcing packages — managed services from desktop to Web and application development to the telecom side of the house," she said. "I'd like to put one big package out on the street and say, 'This is everything I do. So what can you do for me?' "
Canales is known for efficiency, an ability to master any subject and a high energy level. She gets high marks from everyone who works with her. Flyzik, her boss until early April, described his former top deputy as "self-motivated."
"She just needs to know what the requirement is, and she gets it done," Flyzik said. "She is one of the key players in governmentwide initiatives and the federal CIO Council. She's always been a leader and exhibited leadership qualities."
In the mid-1990s, Michael Lawson recruited Canales to be his executive assistant at the Department of Veterans Affairs' Boston health care system, where she helped departments move from paper-based to computer-based systems. "She was the catalyst to make much of that happen," said Lawson, director of the Boston program.
"She was very gifted in the computer arts, a quick study, quite proficient in computer technology," he said. Although she knew little about health care systems at the time, Lawson said Canales quickly became an important part of the operation and got to know health care issues as well as technology.
Canales has always been accustomed to dealing with change. When she was 4 years old, she left Cuba with her family carrying one suitcase of clothing and wearing four gold necklaces around her neck. Her parents, who were educated in the United States, made sure that all four of their children went to college and spoke English without an accent, Canales said.
"I have maybe six pictures and a little gold chain from the day I was born. Other than that, we don't have family heirlooms because they stayed. You weren't allowed to bring any valuables," she said.
As a student, she never shied away from the toughest courses, getting degrees in math and computer science when women were still an anomaly in the world of science and technology. But she said it has never been difficult being a woman in what used to be a predominantly male field.
"I would say I have the same issues a man does — how to live within my budget, how to present my business cases, how to get my security program. I have never been treated differently," Canales said. "I've been lucky.... I've never been surrounded in such a way to feel out of it. I think nowadays people are accustomed to having women in high executive positions."
As Canales charts her course, she is mindful of the agency's goals. She said she based her IT investment decisions on the President's Management Agenda and Treasury goals. She said she hasn't funded some programs and funded others "to make the right things happen."
"If someone had designed a job for Mayi, they couldn't have done a better job," she said.
The Mayi Canales File
Position: Acting chief information officer at the Treasury Department. Also serves on the CIO Council Executive Committee as the e-government coordinator.
Background: Prior jobs include the Department of Veterans Affairs, where she held key positions including CIO of the VA Health Care Network in the Midwest. She spent seven years in the private sector in information technology research and development.
Education: Bachelor's degree in math and computer science from Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg, Va. Master's degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Executive master's degree in business administration from Wichita State University.
Birthplace: Born in Cuba and immigrated to the United States when she was 4.