Jarrett takes NASCIO reins

Tom Jarrett, CIO of Delaware and president of NASCIO, at the Delaware State House.

Rick Steele

State CIO balances demands of privacy and homeland security

As the ranks of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers swell with new members, Tom Jarrett's three years as Delaware's CIO make him a relative veteran. Now part of a core group in the organization, Jarrett last month was elected president of the Lexington, Ky., association for 2004-2005.

Since joining the association in September 2001, Jarrett has served in various capacities, including as chairman of the Strategic IT Business and Services Committee and national vice president.

State CIO Jarrett also is secretary of the Delaware Department of Technology and Information, chairman of its Technology Investment Council and a member of its E911 Advisory Board. He spoke with Staff Writer William Welsh about how state CIOs are coping with high turnover, expanding their influence and collaborating with the private sector.

WT: Given the high turnover rate of state CIOs, is NASCIO serving its members well, or is it losing effectiveness?

Jarrett: That kind of turnover is never advantageous to an organization. But there also has been a core group that has not turned over and has stayed involved. A lot of the new folks coming on board are interested in engaging quickly on the issues. They understand that even if they have been in their positions only a few months, NASCIO can be helpful to them.

There is no question that high turnover is something we have to deal with, but it is really no different than what we deal with in our organizations, where people are going in and out all the time. It is just part of the business, you have to learn to adapt.

WT: What are the association's top initiatives?

Jarrett: When we look at what CIOs are dealing with now, privacy and security are very much at the top of the list, particularly as they relate to homeland security. More people understand the importance of IT as it relates to homeland security. IT was ignored up until recently.

WT: Many state CIOs can't get state government support for basic IT functions. So why did NASCIO's recent annual meeting include sessions on the CIO's role in higher education and economic development?

Jarrett: Not that NASCIO can or should become all things to all people, but a lot of it depends on each of our states. Some state CIOs actually have a significant role in economic development, while in other states that is not the case, because they are dealing with more basic issues.

We're trying to explain to decision-makers that if they hire the right kind of CIO, that person can play a significant role as it relates to other matters of business; economic development is one of the big ones.

WT: Is state CIO influence becoming marginalized compared with other state officials? Are state CIOs really making a difference as leaders?

Jarrett: I believe they are. We are seeing a shift, albeit slow, to where they are having more influence, and they are becoming more of a player that the governor and key leaders in the state are reaching out to. It all goes back to the dynamics in a particular state and to the leadership.

You have to have the support of the governor and legislature as well as good people who can implement what needs to be done. If any of those are missing, then it becomes really questionable.

WT: Is industry exerting too much influence over the IT direction in the states? Can industry be more effective influencing top elected state officials than state CIOs?

Jarrett: I think it does [exert too much influence]. Having come from business, I understand the process. You see less of that in the private sector, but here you have those other avenues to make your case. That's why NASCIO works very closely with its Corporate Leadership Council to build strong partnerships with the private sector, so that does not occur. Our job is not to lock them out of stuff, but to help them bring solutions to us that meet customer problems.

WT: How can the association's Corporate Leadership Council, which represents the private sector, assist NASCIO next year?

Jarrett: They help us understand each other's businesses and problems. Most CLC members are people that already do, or want to do, business with us. Having a strong relationship promotes collaboration and allows a forum for us to find ways to work together. I respect when a sales person is being paid based on what they are selling, and may be aggressive. What I expect back is that they understand what my business is and how we have to operate. Sometimes they're so aggressive in trying to go around CIOs, they don't realize they are not helping themselves. n

Staff Writer William Welsh can be reached at wwelsh@postnewsweektech.com.

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