Eye on the states: Following the road map to CIO star power

Thomas Davies

The turnover of state chief information officers has reached unprecedented levels. As each new governor puts his or her own person in the top technology job, the average tenure of a CIO shrinks.

Although the turnover adds to the uncertainty of selling to state government, the situation isn't hopeless. Companies need to keep in mind some fundamentals governing the influence of the CIOs, regardless of who is in the top job or for how long.

A most important step is to evaluate carefully how much power a new CIO actually has.

For example, most state CIOs can kill a new technology initiative by either saying no or withholding support. But few are in a position to make something happen just because they say yes.

To do that, they need the cooperation of others. Make sure you find the answers to these questions before you make a sales call.

How did the CIO get the job? Some have a personal relationship with the governor; others have close ties to a political party.

Some have the job because they have proven themselves in other leadership capacities, while others get the job after having worked their way up through the state technology organization. Just because they have the job doesn't mean they were anyone's first, or even second, choice.

What resources does the CIO have? The span of a CIO's control over resources varies highly from state to state.

With the consolidation of state data centers, some CIOs are rebuilding empires they lost over 10 years ago. Consequently, they now have direct control over critical networks, hardware, software and personnel. But many CIOs primarily hold staff roles and have small teams they must work through to get a job done.

What are the formal responsibilities of the office? Study the legislation that created the CIO office. Read the statement of legislative intent and the powers that are conferred upon the CIO.

In some states the CIO office was not created by legislation but through executive order. In others there may not be a written document that lays out the CIO's responsibilities. CIO offices that can trace their origin to well-written statues typically have more institutional durability and power.

What's the CIO's position and role in the technology governance structure? No state CIO operates in a vacuum. Technology procurement, budgeting, planning and oversight all take place within a governance process that determines how decisions are made.

In this context, the CIO acts as one member of a senior leadership team.

It's essential to understand precisely the role and responsibilities of the CIO in each of these management areas.

Many of the levers of CIO power often are found in the governance process. For example, some have impressive procurement responsibilities and considerable responsibility for technology procurement.

Others have only indirect influence over procurement because purchasing offices outside their purview do most of the technology purchasing.

Do others invite the CIO to the party? This is shorthand for whether other key state officials willingly invite the CIO to participate in their affairs.

If they do, this speaks to the CIO's personal relationships, credibility and leadership style. If the CIO always has to fall back on his formal powers or his political relationships to get things done, his influence is limited, at best.

Thomas Davies is senior vice president at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va. He can be reached at tdavies@currentanalysis.com.

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