The mentor in the middle

Pat Cummens

Rick Steele

Pat Cummens is the fulcrum through which the private- sector works with state chief information officers. As senior adviser for government projects with Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif., she keeps a laser focus on the interests of her company, but her work doesn't stop there. Cummens also is chairwoman of the 37-member Corporate Leadership Council within the National Association of State Chief Information Officers in Lexington, Ky. In that capacity, she helps the association tap the intellectual capital of the private sector and coordinates research on topical issues that aren't covered by the association's other committees.

Cummens is spearheading an effort to get contractors and state government to trust each other and work more closely together toward common goals. She spoke with Senior Writer William Welsh about why the group chose the project, how it will tackle it and when it will publish its findings.

WT: Why take on public-private partnerships as a project?

Cummens: It's an excellent time to address ways to strengthen the credibility and trust between state CIOs and the corporate community. Naturally, the perspective from the private sector might be different from that of the public sector, but both are trying to push the same goals of using IT to improve the business of government.

How you get beyond the view of just being a vendor to being a trusted partner in this advocacy effort is a big step. We probably will show the most positive success stories as well as the barriers. Some of the issues may be picked up by other NASCIO committees to explore as barriers to overcome. The council would welcome attention to those things. 

WT: Why is the concept of the public-private partnership particularly important to state government?

Cummens: As the industry members of the association, we want to find ways to better interact with the state CIOs, both in the NASCIO environment and individually in the states. So we are always looking for ways to build public-private partnerships. And the states are always looking for better ways to leverage the knowledge base they have available to them through this organization. It seemed like a logical project to take on.

WT: How will you go about this?

Cummens: The project will gather input from the commercial and CIO communities and recommend ways to raise the credibility, trust and overall effectiveness of the IT industry in the public sector. It will create a forum to promote more public and private discussions between state CIOs and corporate members who need to work side by side to enhance government efficiencies and effectiveness.

WT: How will you present the findings?

Cummens: Our target is to have a briefing paper containing best practices and examples to deliver at the October annual meeting in San Diego, along with a session to discuss the findings. Last year, the Corporate Leadership Council didn't take on a big project like that. There wasn't a clear one that jumped out at us, so this is a good time to start on a new one.

WT:Are there any external factors that impact how well the Corporate Leadership Council can perform its role in NASCIO?

Cummens: An issue that can't help but come up in the association is the industry mergers in recent years. The corporate membership is being cannibalized. Where we used to have two members there is now one -- PeopleSoft and Oracle, Gartner and Meta Group, Hewlett-Packard and Compaq. Each of those has been a long-time member.

We're wondering what kind of impact it's going to have on the association and the council. It's the marketplace and the way things are happening, but you put that into a smaller group like the council, and the effect is very real. It means fewer volunteers for us.

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