CIOs share challenges

The challenges facing chief information officers at the state, local and federal levels are not dissimilar, according to a panel of prominent CIOs.

For instance, they said gaining credibility within their organizations is crucial whether it's showing leadership during a crisis or delivering results. That could affect how CIOs get things done in the future.

"If you say a project will be done at X time with this functionality, the project better be done by X time with this functionality," said Karen Evans, the Office of Management and Budget's administrator for e-government and information technology. "You have to produce results."

At the state level, Teri Takai, Michigan's CIO, agreed that CIOs must show results, but she said a huge component is the CIO's relationship and access to the governor, essentially the CIO's position within the power structure.

Pat Pizzella, the Labor Department's assistant secretary for administration and management and CIO, said CIOs must make the most of the budgets they inherit. But they should focus their efforts on ensuring that subsequent budgets reflect their needs. "Nothing breeds success like success," he said.

The CIOs held their wide-ranging discussion on priorities, where they spend most of their time, e-government and customer service, and the role of the private sector during the last session of the National Association of State CIOs’ midyear conference today.

The experts said that working with their respective legislatures was important especially in letting lawmakers know what projects were being undertaken and their benefit to constituents. Producing cost savings is another way of showing that technology plays a role across government, and it could demonstrate to state executives that CIOs should be allowed to undertake other projects, said Steve Dawson, CIO and chief technology officer for New Jersey.

Regarding e-government, David Molchany, CIO for Fairfax County, Va., said his county uses every channel -- including the Internet, an interactive voice response system, kiosks, face-to-face interaction and cable television -- to deliver services to its citizens. Through surveys and focus groups, he said Fairfax officials wanted to give people a choice of how they interact with the government, and that information was built into their IT plan. In fact, he said investing in IT has kept the county workforce steady over the past 10 years.

Takai said government officials have a tendency to expect a return on investment (ROI) on IT projects. CIOs want to be efficient, she said, but government is also in the business of providing customer service, and that is difficult to express in an ROI model.

Molchany said you have to look at your demographics and usage statistics when determining how to augment citizens’ use of e-government services. But Tom Jarrett, Delaware's CIO and NASCIO’s current president, said the recent spate of security breaches, which resulted in data theft in some cases, might make citizens reluctant to conduct government business online.

On the question of how industry can help CIOs, several panelists said private-sector representatives sometimes have more institutional knowledge of a department than CIOs do, and they should tap into that experience.

"I don't know everything that's going on in every nook and cranny. I know most of it. I know the big-bang" projects, said Vance Hitch, the Justice Department's CIO. "But [vendors] know a lot. They have a cumulative total of hundreds of person years of knowledge in the Department of Justice."

Evans said that, ideally, government agencies and vendors should share a project’s risk, but such a model doesn’t exist.

In response to a question from Takai about their perception of state CIOs, her federal counterparts said she and her colleagues are important in various areas, such as law enforcement and e-government services.

Evans said federal officials are trying to make everything they do as transparent as possible. And they want to make sure states know what they can expect from their federal partners, especially when state and federal initiatives can be aligned.

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