August 31, 2005 By Merrill Douglas
That includes Mike Crowell, technical services manager of Salisbury, N.C., who has urged his operations manager to apply to next year's program.
"I imagine over the next several years, I'll probably have all of my staff sign up for it," said Crowell, a former president of the NCLGISA, and one of the local government CIOs who urged the center to create the CIO School.
Although his managers already respect his qualifications and he gets good support from elected officials, Crowell said he enrolled to gain concrete evidence of his professional status.
The courses expose Crowell to best practices that could prove useful even in a small IT department like Salisbury's. With a staff of seven direct reports and only 360 desktop machines to manage, Crowell said he doesn't have formal processes for areas such as project management and risk analysis.
"I thought this would be a good chance to learn a little more about those," he said, noting that though he might not formally implement risk analysis practices, he's leaning toward incorporating them more into the department's business cases.
The CIO School is evolving, Crowell said, predicting that next year's courses will be even better than this year's. One change he said he would like to see is a tighter focus on how IT works in small government organizations. For example, this year's courses contained a session on project management that focused on an eight-month project involving 200 programmers.
"I've got two programmers," Crowell said. "It's hard to take something that's applicable to a 200-person group and apply it to two people."
Schelin is receptive to feedback from participants, Crowell added.
"I've been pleased about what she's been able to accomplish because it's exactly what we had in mind when we started talking about it," he said.
For Schelin, one interesting aspect of the course has been seeing different responses from IT directors who have always worked in government, and those who moved over from the corporate world after the dot-com bust.
"The folks who come out of the private sector have a higher expectation of comprehension among leadership," Schelin said, especially when it comes to why a local government should implement particular IT systems. "They're also not used to the siloed approach of government, where the departments will fight tooth and nail to retain their data even if it means everybody's doing duplicate work, because that's where the power lies."
One of the course's tangible products will be a collection of business cases the students develop as a class assignment. The center will post this casebook on the Web so people who can't take the classes can benefit from those who do, Schelin said.
One student, a county IT director, wrote a business plan for class that has already made an impact in the real world, Schelin reported.
"He said, 'I took that same business plan to my officials and presented it in front of the commissioners, and I got all the funding I needed.' They came back and said, 'That was the most well written, nontechnical piece we've ever seen you do.'
"I think [students are] really starting to see positive benefits."
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