CIOs should be ready to explain

National Association of State Chief Information Officers

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Whether you call it lobbying or educating someone about an issue, individuals must have credibility and preparation when advocating an information technology program, experts said this week.

Two state chief information officers and a former U.S. senator listed what it takes to be a lobbyist, whether the person is a CIO or a vendor. They also described what lobbyists should and shouldn't do during the National Association of State Chief Information Officers annual meeting this week in Scottsdale, Ariz.

In the past year, state CIOs have indicated that their roles have expanded from being traditional technologists to being policy advisors, public relations specialists and lobbyists.

"It is my contention that we don't really lobby, but we can and do educate," said New York CIO James Dillon. "Most of us (CIOs) are not seasoned or skilled lobbyists. We should think education first, lobbying second."

Because CIO responsibilities affect all branches of government in the delivery of services, it's important to be able to be open and honest with vendors and federal, state and local government officials.

Although he was proud of accomplishments such as implementing centralized e-mail in New York, Dillon said forging an ongoing dialogue about IT between his staff and the chief financial officer's staff has resulted in tremendous change.

Former U.S. Sen. Richard Bryan of Nevada said not everyone can be a natural lobbyist, but everyone can be a competent one. "Fundamental and basic is to be prepared," Bryan said. "It's a motto that served the Boy Scouts well for a century, and it will serve you well. Know the subject matter. There's no excuse for not being prepared."

Bryan said individuals should know their subject matter inside and out; be articulate; know who they're meeting with — whether a politician or their staff — because presentations will differ; know a politician's voting record; anticipate questions; build relationships; follow up with those relationships; and understand that it will take some time to advocate an issue or program.

CIOs should know how long it will take to explain a technical issue and realize that their audience may not have enough time for a full, detailed explanation, Bryan said.

But far and away, the most important characteristic stressed was trust.

"Issues we deal with are very, very complex," said George Newstrom, Virginia's secretary of technology. "It takes time to build those relationships, to get credibility. It takes a lot of time to build that kind of trust. It takes no time to destroy it. One incident, one wrong answer, one slightly incorrect position can take away a lot of the work, a lot of the effort."

Lobbyists shouldn't make an "overcommitment or gild the lily," said Bryan, who was a former governor of Nevada and a local official. "Once you lose your credibility you are finished as a lobbyist."

The panel also expressed extreme caution in using vendors to help CIOs lobby politicians or others. Bryan said CIOs could compromise their integrity and could raise questions of an improper relationship.

In Virginia, Newstrom, who has been trying to create a single technology agency by consolidating nearly 100 IT divisions across the government, said constituencies such as other state agencies have been extraordinarily important in testifying for technology projects.

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