Montana welcomes first CIO

A telecommunications and technology manager with a North Dakota-based power company has been tapped as Montana's first chief information officer.

Brian Wolf, 39, who has worked for Basin Electric Power Cooperative for the past 19 years, will assume his new post in October. The position was created through state legislation and signed into law by Gov. Judy Martz in April.

He was picked from a field of 40 applicants and appointed by Barbara Ranf, director of the state Department of Administration, where the Information services Division is housed. He said his first order of business will be to build relationships with stakeholders, including the state legislature, state agencies, and the education and business sectors.

Wolf said he'll spend his first few months "listening to a lot of issues that people have, analyzing what the current vision is...and mapping what the next technology vision is going to be." He said he hasn't had the opportunity to gauge the state's information technology status is in terms of infrastructure, applications and e-government deployment.

Wolf managed the delivery of IT services and handled strategic planning for Basin Electric — a consumer-owned generation and transmission cooperative that sells wholesale power to 119 distribution systems in nine states, including Montana. He also managed Basin Telecommunications Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary covering a six-state area.

Ranf said Wolf has the education, leadership skills, and demonstrated IT planning and programming management the state sought. While choosing someone from the private sector wasn't a criteria, "it's an added value that Brian brings in to this position," she said.

A North Dakota native, Wolf said Basin Electric, which primarily serves rural homes and businesses, operates democratically. The cooperative's directors are elected by regional board members who are "similar in thought processes and culture to rural legislators that I expect to deal with."

Wolf was also a board member last year with the Information Technology Council of North Dakota, founded by business leaders to strengthen the state's IT infrastructure. In that capacity, he said he worked with North Dakota's CIO, Curtis Wolfe, and public- and private-sector constituencies.

He said he didn't foresee difficulties making the transition to the public sector.

"IT, in general and how that applies to a state entity, is no different than the private sector," he said, adding that "obtaining and retaining good people" is also important. "Technology is a wonderful thing, but people are what makes it go," Wolf said.

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