A strong alliance between a state's chief executive and CIO is a potent weapon for reforming government operations, according to former Michigan Gov. John Engler.
Engler, now president of state and local government business for EDS, served as governor of Michigan from 1991 to 2002 and spearheaded a massive portal and IT centralization effort dubbed e-Michigan. That initiative -- which established a cabinet-level Department of Information Technology
and created the e-Michigan Office to coordinate statewide e-government activities -- powered Michigan to a second-place finish in Government Technology's
annual Digital State survey in 2002.
One key to Michigan's success was the degree of support Engler gave e-Michigan Office Director Stephanie Comai. That relationship essentially allowed Comai to speak for the governor as her office tackled the task of centralizing Michigan's e-government operations.
"When Stephanie talked, people knew it was coming from me," said Engler, speaking in Tucson, Ariz., Monday at re:public II, an annual government leadership event sponsored by Government Technology
and the Center for Digital Government. "They knew if they didn't do what she asked, they were going to get a phone call from me -- and that probably wasn't going to be a call they wanted to get."
Engler -- who viewed technology as vital to Michigan's transformation strategy -- advised incoming governors to find CIOs with whom they can work closely.
"I wanted people to know that my CIO had the ear of the boss," Engler said. "People knew that I cared. And when people care, they can get a lot done."