State CIOs evolving

National Association of State Chief Information Officers

State government chief information officers are finding that "technologist" is only part of their job description these days. In fact, their jobs are becoming more difficult as they try to balance their increasingly diverse responsibilities amid tight budgets.

Aldona Valicenti, Kentucky's CIO, said the joke that CIO stands for "career is over" no longer applies. She said CIOs must perform the duties of manager, lobbyist, politician, public relations consultant, policy advisory mediator, budget expert, change agent, public speaker, procurement expert "and sometimes a technologist."

It's not an easy shift to make, but it's necessary, according to some. "CIOs and [information technology] professionals in general need to think and talk in terms of policy outcomes," said Thom Rubel, director of the National Governors Association's state IT program.

He said agency leaders don't think of CIOs as business people, and most policy-makers view IT as a way to implement policy, not as a potential solution. CIOs, he said, must explain to agencies and their state executive branches how data integration or information sharing can help a particular problem and create a better outcome.

Rubel also said language is critical when conveying the importance of business processes and their relevance to policy outcomes. For example, he said the term "enterprise" doesn't resonate with other government officials as "statewide" or "agencywide" do.

New York CIO James Dillon said he is hardly ever a technologist anymore, but rather is "trying to bring some order to the chaos we are in right now," referring to the budget crisis his state, like others, is facing. He's focusing on a statewide approach to implementing technology, but he said that trying to do it "on a shoestring" is very difficult.

In an informal poll at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers' midyear conference, 100 percent of attendees surveyed said they believed that central authority on IT development was seen as a threat to agency leaders. The April 8 panel discussion on the role of the CIO was held during the conference.

Steve Dawson, who was appointed New Jersey's CIO last year but recently took on the responsibilities of chief technology officer as well, said that with a $5 billion to $6 billion budget deficit, he no longer has the luxury of experimenting with new technologies.

Instead, he's focusing on making smart IT choices, meeting agency needs and fostering partnerships with agencies, other governments and the private sector.

His responsibilities include digital services, domestic preparedness, disaster recovery, diversity in IT suppliers — including women- and minority-owned businesses — and departmental outreach to business stakeholders and chiefs of staff, which he said was his most important duty.

The National Governors Association's Rubel said a new position that is emerging is that of a chief operating officer — a model pulled from the private sector — whose sole duty is to ensure that government agencies deliver services to businesses and citizens.

Rubel said that serving citizens and businesses better is going to become more important because many see it as an economic competitiveness issue.

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