The CIO's Roundtable

CIO is no small job in New York; New York's Jim Dillon builds consensus with the state's IT chiefs

James Dillon

Joe Putrock

Jim Dillon knows how government works. After 26 years in state government, he understands that consensus and collaboration work more effectively than coercion. So nearly three years ago, when Dillon accepted the job as New York state's first chief information officer, one of his first moves was to establish the New York State CIO Council to coordinate technology plans among the multitude of state organizations.

Dillon regards creation of the council in fall 2002 and the work it has accomplished since as his most significant achievement. The CIO Council comprises the senior leadership of more than 80 state agencies, authorities, public benefit corporations and local governments.

He spoke with Staff Writer William Welsh about the benefits of the CIO Council and New York's plans for the $1.5 billion to $2 billion it spends annually on IT products and services.

WT: What's the purpose of the New York State CIO Council?

Dillon: For me, the idea behind formation of the council was about building consensus. I've been around state government a long time. I am very familiar with the number of pressure points that can be brought to bear to stop things from happening. It is a difficult situation to deal with.

Rather than trying to force things through on any compressed timetable, I decided that consensus building was necessary to get conceptual, and then more specific buy-in from players that need to be involved, such as CIOs and agency heads.

WT: How has the council made it better for IT contractors to do business with New York?

Dillon:It has taken a lot of the guesswork out of dealing with the state. I have close relations with all the contractors that do business with the state. I respect them and believe they bring a lot to the table, but it is their responsibility to look at the CIO's strategic plans, agency IT strategic plans and enterprise architecture documents and principles.

We now have done enough communications with them ? through the CIO Web site and through direct communication with the New York State Forum for Information Resource Management and its members ? that we expect them not to tell us they didn't know or to go around these principles and try to deal directly with agencies in a way that doesn't adhere to the statewide IT plan. That should be a benefit to them in doing business with the state.

WT: Is New York considering a statewide financial management system?

Dillon: We are working closely with the Division of the Budget and Office of State Comptroller on this one. It's a definite need. We are a very large and complex entity. We can take advantage of the common technology that is available through a statewide financial management system, and it would benefit agencies and employees. We need to simplify technology through the use of a single software solution.

We are looking at that right now. It is the only way that we really get a statewide view of the finances and would allow us to work with the Department of General Services to do a better job at procurement.

WT: What steps is New York taking to consolidate its IT infrastructure?

Dillon:The governor's charge to me is promoting cooperation and gaining efficiencies. In many areas, that has meant consolidation, specifically on data centers, network and telecommunications. We have certainly come a long way in that time.

The number of people it takes to do data center operations ? with many now under 24/7 coverage and with security measures that weren't in place before ? is much lower than it was when they were scattered among the agencies.

We are continuing to look at open systems. As more legacy systems are replaced by newer systems, they will be moving off the main frame onto more open systems.

WT: What advice do you have for contractors doing business with the Office for Technology?

Dillon: There is always a lot of talk about the term "vendor," and that people don't like it and they would rather be partners and build partnerships. I can't say I have really seen that yet. That doesn't mean that we don't get vendors that do really good jobs on large and small projects, because we do.

All too often, their relationships with my state are driven by the bottom line set by their corporate headquarters. They focus on how much they have to sell in goods and services to my state and do not take into account the state's budget circumstances or its strategic plan and IT direction.

When it comes toward the end of the quarter or the end of the year for a state representative for large and small companies, are they going to worry more about their numbers or about my strategic plan?

WT: What can be done about that?

Dillon: Somehow, we have to get past that issue before we can move into a true partnership mode. Within the confines of state procurement laws and other issues that we all have to deal with, it is a very delicate balance.

I'm not looking at specific instances where a project has gone wrong; I am taking a wide-angle look at the relationship between state government and vendors as not being one of partnership. But as a state representative going out and meeting with multiple entities in the state agencies, I am working to build consensus with those agencies about how we are going to do business in a more common manner.

WT: What's the payoff for contractors in adhering to your strategic plan and embracing your enterprise architecture approach?

Dillon: The payoff for them is that myself and people like me are going to be happier doing business with them. But there are dangers to [the companies] too. When you start to talk about enterprise architecture and standards, there are going to be winners and losers. The wins and losses obviously would be magnified under a state IT plan that becomes more ubiquitous across the agencies and local governments.

I have an open-door policy in dealing with vendors. And it is important to me to bring the vendor together with state agencies and local governments in a way that promotes collaboration. The building of consensus and collaboration is a slow and careful process rather than hitting someone over the head. n

James Dillon

Age: 55

Title: Chief information officer, state of New York

Time in the job: Two years, 10 months

Years in state government: 26

Previous positions: Deputy executive director of the New York Office of Science, Technology and Academic Research; executive deputy commissioner and acting commissioner of the New York State Department of Labor; research director for the New York State Assembly

Family: Married, two children and three grandchildren

Favorite author: Historian Stephen Ambrose

Favorite comic strip: Dilbert

Hobbies: Golf, juggling

Military experience: Six years in the Navy

Education: Master's degree in public administration from the Nelson Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy at the State University of New York at Albany, and a bachelor of arts degree from St. Michael's College, Colchester, Vt.

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