Eye on the States

The New CIO in State Government

Thomas Davies

By Thomas Davies

States have been experimenting with CIO-type models for more than 15 years, and the chief information officer now is beginning to emerge as a governor's key adviser.

As with many management trends in state government, there is no one reason why the CIO's role is changing. Many suggest the changes are due in part to the people who are filling the positions. Some states have been fortunate to recruit top-caliber leaders. These CIOs are demonstrating they are capable of serving as top cabinet officials in almost any capacity.

Another reason is the job has risen in importance. The year 2000 computer glitch has thrust CIOs into statewide, and for some nationwide, visibility. Several CIOs have used Y2K to showcase their management abilities as well as the preparedness of their states.

A third driver is information technology's growing importance to the economic development of the states. Governors typically are more interested in IT's financial contributions than its administrative uses. IT means jobs, an educated work force, a healthy tax base and votes.

Another reason for the change is how critical IT has become to delivering state services. Most state officials realize that doing more with less is only feasible by leveraging IT.

Since government and politics go hand in hand, one must recognize the increased involvement of IT companies in state and national politics. Some IT companies are becoming highly active, contributing in a substantive way to the states IT direction.

As a result of these and other drivers, a new kind of CIO, and a new form of CIO governance, is emerging.

A detailed examination of the CIO office in state government shows that roles, responsibilities, authority and organization location are highly variable across states. No one recipe for governance fits all.

One important trend is that the CIO is becoming the point person for governors on IT policy issues. This is a very different role for most CIOs and will put their leadership skills to the test. Some of the most difficult IT issues governors face in the future are, at their core, policy issues.

Outsourcing, for example, is for most states inherently a policy issue. It is usually accepted that the states will continue to contract out more and more responsibility for IT to the private sector. The major point of contention is what and how much to contract out.

A second IT policy issue is Internet tax policy. The Internet is causing governors and their tax advisers to take a hard look at the future of their states' tax base in an electronic commerce world. The tax policy for Internet services will split the states as few issues have, causing new coalitions to form along non-traditional lines.

A third issue is security and IT infrastructure assurance. As more services migrate to the Web, the governors will need to ensure their states are protected from outside threats. As Y2K has demonstrated, the governors will not limit the scope of their public policy concerns to the state government IT complex. Responsible for protecting the health and welfare of citizens and businesses within their states, governors will act to guarantee the IT infrastructure is secure.

Lastly, the growing rumblings around privacy can be heard. Consequently, CIOs are beginning to pay more attention to the "information" part of their titles. While some may have the CIO title, they sometimes act more as technology managers than they do information officers. Information policy is uncharted waters for many states, and governors will look to the CIOs to help navigate.

For the IT industry, a shift to a more policy-focused CIO means marketing will shift to a different playing field. The ability of companies to shape the direction of significant policy issues will become more important. Outsourcers, for example, will find they need to defend contracting out not simply on economic terms as a savings, but as sound policy.

As policy becomes more important, state officials will look to more proven and traditional sources of information for advice and guidance. Associations such as the National Governor's Association and the National Conference of State Legislatures will become more active on IT issues.

And governors will begin to define themselves and their states by the positions they take on national IT issues. Today, it is difficult to discern meaningful differences among the states around Internet technology-driven issues such as portals, search engines and online communities.

Thomas Davies is senior vice president for Internet Services at Federal Sources Inc., McLean, Va. Mike Coogan and Monica Campbell contributed to this article.

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