Governors' Association To Push Broader Authority for CIOs

Governors' Association To Push Broader Authority for CIOs

John Thomasian

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

Two forthcoming reports by the National Governors' Association will recommend governors give their chief information officers broader authority in budgeting and operational decisions relating to information technology.

Both reports, scheduled for release at the association's annual meeting Aug. 7-10 in St. Louis, argue that a strong CIO is needed to oversee deployment of complex IT systems and help governors exploit the new technologies.

"We have found that for CIOs to be successful, they must have authority for IT across state agencies and not just within their own departments," said Thom Rubel, a director in the association's Center for Best Practices and author of the report, "Managing Information Technology: The Emerging Role of the State CIO."

The other report, "Buying the Best Solution: How States Can Improve Information Technology Procurement," examines how the states can improve the way they purchase computers and other information technologies. Both are set for release at the annual meeting.

The state CIOs, or those with equivalent responsibilities, are organized in a variety of ways, said Rubel. Roughly half the states have CIOs who are accountable directly to the governor and have the broad authority that can be found in the private sector, he said.

One of those states is Kentucky, where Democratic Gov. Paul Patton has implemented a number of reforms to transform government using technology. Patton and his CIO Aldona Valicenti are slated to give a presentation describing the CIO's role at an Aug. 9 meeting of the governors' IT Task Force.

The public sector differs from the private sector in important ways that can limit a state CIO, said Rubel. In the private sector, company heads have more flexibility to empower their CIOs and authorize them to make changes throughout the company, and to knock heads when necessary to make it happen.

In the public sector, however, the way budgets are put together may prevent rapid change, and politics can slow or influence technology planning.

"It can be harder to measure the bottom line in the public sector," said Rubel. That, in turn, can make it difficult to justify innovative projects.

And while a governor can invest a CIO with great authority over executive branch agencies, CIOs often have little control over the IT systems in the legislative and judicial branches, he said.

How a state purchases its IT products and services is also a key element in determining the CIO's success, said John Thomasian, director of the association's Center for Best Practices and author of the report on IT buying by the states.

His report contains these recommendations:

• States should move away from traditional bids in which the government defines in detail the solution that it wants to buy. Instead, governments should shift to "problem-oriented bids," in which the government defines the problem to be solved and the goals it wants to achieve, but leaves it up to business to recommend the best solution.

•States should move from least-cost (or lowest bid) purchasing to value-based purchasing in which such criteria as total life-cycle costs are taken into account. "It may make sense to spend an extra $5 million if it gets you an additional $50 million in savings," said Thomasian.

• States should simplify day-to-day purchasing, such as establishing a qualified pool of vendors and purchasing schedules that can eliminate red tape. Many states do this, but not all.

• States should share risks and benefits with contractors, especially on large projects, to improve performance and prevent failure. This can be done, for example, by making payments contingent on measured benefits, paying contractors from the savings generated by their IT solutions, breaking up large contracts into a series of smaller contracts, or by bringing in a consultant to oversee a project.

Thomasian and Rubel agree that a key to the CIO's success is the centralized authority over IT budgets and operations. The CIO should not act as a dictator over the other departments and agencies, but must have the power to coordinate activities so that the agencies do not become stovepipes with IT systems that cannot communicate and share information, they said.

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