Deficits don't deter new CIOs

"With the big budgets they had in the past, agencies weren't always willing or able to cooperate with their sister agencies." ?  Art Stephens, Pennsylvania's CIO, on how the shortfall will ultimately improve business practices.

Pennsylvania Chief Information Officer Art Stephens believes the state's $2.4 billion revenue shortfall ultimately will drive better business practices across state government.

"Good times create bad habits, while bad times create good habits," Stephens said. It's a mantra he shares with department heads and other state officials as he goes about his day-to-day business of overseeing the state's technology investment.

Stephens said the success of Pennsylvania's major technology initiatives will require agencies and departments to collaborate and break down barriers that have long hampered information sharing.

"With the big budgets they had in the past, agencies weren't always willing or able to cooperate with their sister agencies," Stephens said. He is optimistic this will change in light of the enormous shortfall confronting the agencies.

Stephens, who started as Pennsylvania CIO in March, is one of about 20 new or acting CIOs appointed within the past year, the majority coming on board with newly elected governors. Like Stephens, many are grappling with budget deficits and spending cutbacks, and so are looking for ways to gain efficiencies and savings.

The new CIOs are pursuing many similar information technology initiatives, including the creation of one-stop portals for businesses and citizens, the hardening of IT security and fostering of greater collaboration on cross-agency initiatives in homeland security, justice and public safety, the CIOs said. For the long term, the CIOs want to improve governance plans and establish technology standards that will help foster an enterprise approach to IT.

Like many of his counterparts, Utah CIO Val Oveson frets over IT security. "Utah is in pretty good shape, but being in good shape these days means you have to run to catch up and stay ahead of the game," he said.

Oveson said the state is making good progress. The state government is capable of blocking practically all virus attacks on its networks, but the state needs to strengthen its virtual private network and improve policy and standards surrounding passwords and logons, he said.

One of Oveson's top priorities this year is to expand the number of electronic services. The state currently has more than 100 services available through the state portal and plans to add another 30 to 40 applications this year, he said. Another priority is turning some of these applications into integrated projects involving multiple agencies. For example, the state's one-stop business portal, which allows businesses to register with multiple agencies through a single Web site, ultimately will involve six or seven state agencies as well as local and federal agencies, he said.

In Pennsylvania, Stephens has his hands full juggling a half dozen or more major technology projects. These include Imagine PA, a statewide enterprise resource planning project; JNET, an integrated justice network; and PA Open for business, a one-stop portal for companies doing business in the state. Stephens' long-term goals are to develop an integrated homeland security plan and establish a strategic technology plan that lays out the state's approach to enterprise architecture, establishes its technology priorities and identifies key enterprisewide projects.

This year's revenue shortfalls are having a varied impact on the 50 states, according to state CIOs. Wisconsin, like Pennsylvania, faces a stiff uphill battle. The state's $3.2 billion deficit will force agencies to cooperate on enterprise IT, said Matt Miszewski, Wisconsin's CIO. In contrast, the fiscal 2003 budgets in some smaller states, such as Delaware and Utah, are currently balanced, according to the Denver-based National Association of State Legislatures.

Miszewski said that during years of surplus, individual agencies could afford "to develop and deploy applications on their own, in their own languages and on their own servers in their own network room." Now, however, agencies must work together and use the purchasing power of the state to gain statewide efficiency, he said.

In Pennsylvania, officials will fund new projects "based on hard dollar savings," not on what seems to be a good idea, Stephens said.

Regarding Utah's balanced budget, Oveson said, "[It's] a mixed blessing, because we also don't have the motivation to make some of the changes that could be made with deeper cuts."

While revenue shortfalls may seem the biggest challenge confronting new CIOs, the real issue they must address is a cultural one, said John Goggin, vice president and director of government strategies for the market research firm Meta Group Inc., Stamford. The real issue is to make sure they continue to move the CIO position from a reactive, supporting role to a proactive, planning role.

Whether a new CIO hails from the private or public sector, he or she needs to work fast to build the relationships that will guarantee success, Goggin said. "If they were aligned with the governor's office, then they need to gain acceptance by the agency heads," he said, "But if they were aligned with the operations, then they need to get accepted into the governor's inner circle."

John Kost, vice president and research director for worldwide public sector at the market research firm Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn., agreed. "A very difficult challenge will be understanding the command and control processes that will make or break them," he said.

The new CIOs said that companies should understand that the budget constraints are real and not artificial, and they shouldn't go around the CIO to lobby for projects.

"Vendors should never forget that we all work together in Wisconsin, so attempts to bypass the CIO by going to the agencies simply will not work," Miszewski said. "We work as a strong team and appreciate vendors that work with us as a team."

Stephens said proposals for technology solutions that fit into existing initiatives in Pennsylvania would be viewed more favorably than others.

"All too often vendors come to Pennsylvania and pitch JNET and don't understand that we already have it," Stephens said. "In the tightened IT market, vendors need to be fairly aware of the initiatives under way and understand how they can work within them to create a business case that creates value." *

Staff Writer William Welsh can be reached at wwelsh@postnewsweektech.com

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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