Let the chips fall where they may

Gubernatorial elections in 36 states mean new CIOs, fresh initiatives

November's midterm election results could usher in an era of management-focused governors who will use IT more aggressively than their predecessors did.

Of the 36 gubernatorial races to be decided Nov. 7, 10 definitely will have new office holders as a result of term limits and incumbents choosing not to run. That turnover could be substantially higher if a large number of incumbents are defeated.

The fresh faces could bring new and welcome perspectives on how to use IT, as well as a willingness to embrace technology as an integral part of the business of government, state officials and industry experts said.

With each passing election, greater numbers of gubernatorial candidates are tech-savvy, and they're winning, said Gerry Wethington, vice president for homeland security, justice and public safety for Unisys Corp.'s North American public sector.

As a result, more state leaders are inclined to support key IT investments that can help them consolidate services and systems, improve interoperability, drive down costs and increase efficiency.

"They know that IT is an enabler, based on their own experiences, and that's part of what is going to make it be more of a staple within an administration than what we've seen in the past," Wethington said.

A former CIO for Missouri, Wethington was a two-term president of the National Association of State CIOs. He served from 2002 to 2004, and guided the organization through the 2002 elections, when two-thirds of the 36 contested governors races resulted in new governors.

Whether voters elect a new leader or the incumbent, the IT focus will change, and that will lead to more projects, said Michigan CIO and new NASCIO President Teri Takai.

"Every new governor who comes in, even an incumbent, will bring new initiatives," Takai said. Incumbents often will need to realign projects with those goals, she said, expecting that new initiatives will generate new sets of projects.

Chain of command

Knowing where to look, whom to talk with and how to talk to them is crucial for IT vendors and systems integrators looking for new work, as well as those hoping to retain projects. Private industry already should be talking with both sides in gubernatorial races, the incumbent's CIO and members of the challengers' transition team, industry experts said.

Even before the election, transition teams exist, Wethington said, it is important for industry officials to offer suggestions to the incumbent CIO as well as to the transition team.

Even if the incumbent governor wins, companies need to explain how their projects continue to fit the administration's priorities, which can be reset from one term to the next, said Matt Miszewski, CIO for Wisconsin and NASCIO past president.

For companies to be successful, they must talk with both sides and offer advice and consultation, Miszewski said, but added that companies should save their sales pitches for later.

"Going in, trying to sell products or services is going to rub that transition team the wrong way, and you'll be boxed out for four years," he said.

If the challenger wins, vendors must reach out early to talk with both the chief of staff and the head of the governor's transition team. Both play vital roles as the new administration establishes itself, he said.

It's also important for a company to know what level of government official to contact about its project, said Clark Kelso, CIO for California. Many IT projects are simply too small to be a concern to state leadership. Companies doing low-dollar, low-risk work should just keep working, as they won't be affected by a change in leadership.

For larger projects, companies should first contact their project manager and not try to climb the chain of command to meet with the governor, Kelso said. They should wait for officials to be briefed on the project, then work through lobbyists, he said.

Agency secretaries don't handle procurement, and they don't want to hear sales pitches, Kelso said. They are innovators who look for better ways of doing things and are keenly focused on policy development. Companies that have the best communication with policymakers are those that have hired good lobbyists.

"It's hooking up with those professionals who know how to talk to them, the right language to use, the right issues to raise and how to interact with high-level policymakers," Kelso said.

Many vendors focus on talking with CIOs about technology, but they also need to talk to department heads and program directors about how projects affect business operations, said John Kost, managing vice president of worldwide public sector research for IT consultancy Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.

"Vendors need to spend less time talking about technology and more time talking about what they have to offer to enable the achievement of the campaign promises, and the business process transformations that these new leaders will want to accomplish," Kost said.

Project reviews

Immediately after the elections, new administrations as well as returning incumbents will review state IT initiatives as they prepare the next annual budget.

The first two months of the new term tend to be the pruning period, Kost said. He estimated that between 75 percent and 85 percent of all projects will continue after the elections.

Projects to be canceled are those that no longer support policy or that run on outdated technology. Others on the hit list for the new term could be troubled projects that have fallen behind schedule, are over budget or are simply failing, Kost said.

An example of a project that has fallen behind schedule is the Ohio Administrative Knowledge System, Kost said. Gov. Bob Taft (R) has reached his term limit, making the governorship an open seat. And the $85 million enterprise resource planning project, which Accenture Ltd. won in May 2005, has failed to hit milestones on time.

"Not all the modules for that project have begun," Kost said. "If it goes forward, it will cover the entire first term of the next governor. At some point, it becomes the new governor's project, not the old governor's project, and they'll have to decide if they want to be associated with it."

Ohio CIO Mary Carroll declined to be interviewed for this story.

In Wisconsin, the state's server consolidation project, the Shared Information Services Initiative, is too far along to be scrapped, Miszewski said, but a new administration could look at changing the project's scope.

Incumbent Democrat Jim Doyle faces Republican Mark Green, a four-term member of the U.S. House of Representatives.

If Doyle wins, two IT projects likely to move forward would be reworking the state's Web portal and creating statewide intranets, Miszewski said. Both projects have been on hold throughout Doyle's first term.

In Michigan, incumbent Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) is running against Republican businessman Dick DeVos. CIO Takai does not think that the Medicaid and criminal justice legacy system overhauls that she is working on would be affected if Granholm lost.

California CIO Clark Kelso is working toward putting out a request for proposals for an ERP system for all executive branch agencies in the state.

Incumbent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) will face off against Democrat and two-term state treasurer Phil Angelides in that election.

"I don't expect there will be a change in direction on that project, notwithstanding a change in the office holder," Kelso said.

After the elections are settled, expect most states to look closely at consolidating e-mail, data centers and other applications. States could streamline citizen services, creating single permit application forms that can be modified to fit multiple permits, for example, and drive efficiencies in government, Wethington said.

"Those are issues that are being thought about in virtually every state," he said.

Staff Writer Ethan Butterfield can be reached at ebutterfield@postnewsweektech.com.

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