Reprinted with permission from the Feb. 2005 issue of Public CIO.

In 1997, the Center for Technology in Government examined how the state of New York and its local governments worked together in terms of information systems. What they found was distressing. The environment was characterized as one of "stunning complexity" in which fiscal, cultural, organizational and structural differences were immense.

For example, localities often were saddled with several entirely different computer systems, each with its own hardware, software and method of operation. The report, Tying a Sensible Knot, summarized the existing situation for state and local information systems as clearly not "business as usual."

Seven years later, the struggle continues.

"New York state government is a very large, very complex enterprise," observed Chip Felton, CIO at the New York State Office of Mental Health. In the past, he said, many agencies and authorities pursued their own technology agendas. "I don't know that we had a clear, collective vision of ourselves as a statewide information technology enterprise."

That vision, however, has been coming into focus since 2002, when the state brought together top IT officials from all of its agencies, authorities and public benefit corporations to form the New York State CIO Council, one of the largest such organizations in the United States. CIOs from five counties and New York City participate as well, creating a channel for communication between state and local government on IT issues.

Gradually the council is creating an environment in which New York's myriad government organizations meet their individual needs while enjoying the support of a common IT framework.

Before 1996, New York state had no central entity to manage any aspect of information technology. Government agencies made IT decisions independently and maintained their own IT infrastructures. In 1997, the state established the Office for Technology, which among other things, developed a central data center for all mainframe computing at state agencies.

In early 2002, the state created the Office of the CIO to bring more coherence to the state's IT development, said New York CIO James Dillon. Soon after they took office, Dillon and deputy CIO Mike Mittleman designated a single point of contact for all IT matters at each state organization. These IT officials started meeting as the CIO Council, which more officials joined shortly thereafter. "We recognized the intergovernmental potential for the CIO Council, so we invited a number of people from New York City and county CIOs to join," Dillon said.

Most states have some kind of IT council, said Douglas Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) in Lexington, Ky. Thirty of the states that responded to a survey NASCIO conducted in 2003 said they had a body of this sort, some of which act mainly in an advisory capacity and some with statutory authority, he said.

Because they take many forms, it's hard to generalize about these councils' work, Robinson said. "But clearly they have some form of activity where they provide a review and approval of the enterprise direction, the enterprise strategy, perhaps the strategic plan for IT policies, architecture and procurement activities."

New York is a relative latecomer: Some states have had IT councils or boards since the 1980s, Robinson said. But New York's council is unusually large and provides broad representation. State IT councils generally range from as few as six participants to as many as 30 or 40, he said. New York's CIO Council lists 82 members.

Antidote to Anarchy

The New York State CIO Council does much of its work through seven committees devoted to technology, strategic planning, security, intergovernmental communications, human resources, fiscal and procurement issues, and leadership.

A large part of the council's mission

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer