An Assessment, From the Vest

A mentor once taught me early in my career to note on each New Year's Day five goals for the next 12 months and to keep them in my vest pocket always. Since then I have faithfully followed that advice. Now as I approach the end of my term as president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE) and, coincidentally, as California's first chief information officer, I took the opportunity to peek at these annual goals, particularly as they relate to NASIRE.

Having been a member since 1993, served as the first CIO for two states and held three NASIRE posts, I felt I had the institutional knowledge to know where the association should be heading. But I should have paid more attention to the prophetic words of Bradley Dugger, former NASIRE president and current CIO of Tennessee. At the 1994 annual conference dinner, as he was leaving office, Dugger said he was the happiest person in the room. Now I understand why.Over the past 30 years, NASIRE and its predecessor, the National Association for State Information Systems, have had significant success-even nationwide recognition. This has been especially true for NASIRE's efforts on such critical issues as welfare reform, the Year 2000 and electronic commerce. Now, when technology issues are debated by our sister associations, the Information Technology Association of America, the media, the White House and Congress, NASIRE is almost always at the table.

Along with this new prominence and these new responsibilities has come a new type of state IT professional: the CIO. According to a new NASIRE survey of our state primary contacts, about 20 states have a CIO whose primary responsibilities correspond to this new policy-oriented role. Today, CIOs usually are senior appointees of their governor and head up cabinet-level departments. Every few months it seems that another governor or legislature decides that technology policy and direction are so critical that they warrant a high-level official who will be held accountable. Thus a new CIO joins our ever-increasing ranks, and this bodes well for our profession and our association.

The Executive Committee and I recognized some time ago that NASIRE must also change. I knew that NASIRE members' traditional responsibilities-running data centers and networks, software development, systems integration and maintenance-were becoming decentralized, consolidated and even outsourced. It was with this in mind last year that I set out to formulate goals for my term as president. First, I wanted to re-examine our association-our members, our goals, our organizational structure, even our name. I thought we should encourage states to adopt the CIO governance model. The model required that we identify a primary member-a CIO or equivalent-from each state. Then I proposed that we move to align the association more formally with other appropriate organizations, other state associations, the National Governors Association, the Federal CIO Council and others.

In the end, NASIRE's self-examination has proved to be a challenging one. These were not impersonal issues, and traditions die hard. We've decided to keep the name NASIRE, but our motto now is "Representing the CIOs of the States." A good compromise, keeping the best and changing the rest.

Regarding membership, we agreed that NASIRE should remain open to any state IT official. However, each state (likely the governor) must designate one primary NASIRE member who represents the most senior technology official in that state. Those designees are then eligible to hold NASIRE leadership posts. NASIRE's structure will be undergoing transformation as well. This month in San Diego, we will present to our members a plan to reorganize the functional framework of NASIRE. Specifically, we'll take up a new model for governance with a board of directors and an executive director.

I believe NASIRE has forged new, stronger partnerships with federal and local governments and public-sector associations. We've participated in joint conferences and in discussions with the Federal CIO Council leadership, which wants NASIRE to become a regular participant in conferences. Of course, any progress with voluntary organizations of this kind requires compromise to survive. And it's really not a first-person role; my colleagues on the Executive Committee did most of the work, while, not unhappily, making me look good. The NASIRE staff showed equal dedication.

Still, come San Diego, I'll be the happiest person at the annual dinner.

John Thomas Flynn is the chief information officer of California and president of the National Association of State Information Resources Executives.

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