Eye on the States

What the trendy CIOs are fashioning right now

Thomas Davies

State chief information officers aren't what they used to be. Gone are the days when the typical state technology leader was almost boringly predictable: decades of service in state government, deep experience in IT operations and genuinely apolitical.

The diversity in today's state CIOs is keeping everyone guessing. Not only has the profile changed radically, but, with 36 governors vying for office this fall, more change is coming. The likely changing of the guard will have profound implications for technology companies and their marketing efforts to state government.

Recent CIO and chief technology officer appointments in states such as New Jersey, Michigan, Utah, Wisconsin and Virginia are a good bellwether of things to come. On the surface, there are many dissimilarities in personal background, style and priorities. Underneath, some important patterns are emerging.

The first trend: Many of the newly appointed technology leaders are coming from careers outside of state government. Many have spent a good part of their careers in leadership positions with companies such as Accenture, Science Applications International Corp., Xerox Corp. and Electronic Data Systems Corp. They are very comfortable dealing with the IT industry. It is also one reason why so many are trying to build closer relationships with the IT industry.

A second trend: Many have close ties to their governors. It's not unusual to discover that the CIO was involved in the governor's campaign and contributed time, energy, ideas and, in some cases, money to the election effort. It's also not unheard of for the relationship to stretch back as far as the governor's high school years. These CIOs are dedicated to implementing the governor's top priorities.

A third trend: Many have little or no background ? or interest ? in technology, per se. These individuals are much more steeped in management and leadership skills. They've learned to surround themselves with the best people and to focus on the needed business results. Sales pitches from industry that focus on technology, instead of business results, cause eyes to glaze over and will also cost a company precious credibility.

A fourth trend: Few of them expect to be around long. They see themselves as people who have come to state government not for a career, but to effect change. They are looking for short-term results and want to contribute to the most important goals.

A fifth trend: Few have first-hand understanding of the day-to-day workings, processes and culture of government. This includes an appreciation of the real constraints under which even the highest level appointees must operate. They lack practical understanding of personnel rules and regulations, procurement policies and budgeting practices. Many are ill-prepared for conducting business in a fish bowl with daily scrutiny and often second-guessing from the press, the legislature, the IT industry and important stakeholders, such as unions. Striking up alliances quickly with those inside and outside of government who can make things happen is essential.

A downside to the forthcoming changing of the guard is that it puts at risk the continuity needed for critical intergovernmental IT initiatives involving all levels of government, such as enterprise architectures, technology re-use and standards. Also, state leadership organizations, such as the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, will be scrambling to acclimate new CIOs to their peers and provide them executive-level training. The IT industry can contribute significantly in efforts to bring new CIOs up to speed.

As the saying goes: Where there's change, there's opportunity. It's time to see who capitalizes on the opportunity.

Thomas Davies is senior vice president at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va.

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