Sweeping Changes

An unprecedented number of new state CIOs are moving into office at a time of intense pressure to leverage more efficiency from technology.

by / April 4, 2003
In 2002, 24 new governors were elected, and many are introducing new CIOs. Additionally, a number of incumbents hired new executives to steer their IT operations, wiping the technology slate clean.

As a result, a number of familiar faces in state technology are gone, replaced by a new class of leaders at a time of profound challenges. Some recent appointments are old government hands; others are new to the game. All face the problem of meshing the power of technology with a government structure firmly rooted in the mid-20th century -- where funding, culture and governance are linked to individual agencies, not the enterprise.

The Next Generation
W. Val Oveson, the new CIO of Utah, just might represent the next generation government technology executive.

His background is in government business, not technology. Prior to his appointment by Gov. Mike Leavitt, Oveson worked in the private sector, but has been a public servant for much of his career, including two terms as Utah's lieutenant governor from 1984 to 1993.

Gov. Leavitt, a long-time supporter of IT in government, has given no new mandate, Oveson said. "I'm continuing the same vision the governor has had since 1993, actually. It's been refined since then, but Governor Leavitt hasn't deviated from that vision much at all."

That vision has been steadfastly focused on e-government. More than 100 state services are online at this point, and another 300 are identified as future candidates. But e-government can be a double-edged sword ? the full benefits don't accrue until the manual system it replaces disappears.

Linking Wonders with Reality
As a government veteran, Oveson recognizes the situation.

"We've got to make sure the front-end face of our e-government has the back-end support so the process remains digitized all the way through," he said. "We don't want to end up with an online interface with the public, but a back-end process that's cumbersome and causing more problems than it's solving internally."

Oveson said he realizes linking the wonders of e-government with the realities of back-end processes won't be an easy task. In fact, it's one of the thorniest problems state CIOs face in trying to deliver the efficiencies of technology to a structurally old-fashioned government. Utah is pressing forward with several enterprise computing projects that have been on the table for some time ? including combining three human services departments with several other departments that aim to cross the spectrum of state government, such as licensing, taxation and commerce.

A number of new governors have turned once again to outside expertise to surmount the enterprise challenge, but this time with a slight twist: The new CIOs have considerable experience running IT for a large organization or business enterprise.

In Massachusetts, Peter J. Quinn, who has 20 years of IT experience primarily in the financial services industry, is helping Gov. Mitt Romney revamp government services. Tennessee Gov. Phil Bredesen has appointed Richard Rognehaugh, a veteran IT executive from the health-care industry, as the state's new CIO.

Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm chose Teresa Takai as her CIO. Takai has more than 30 years experience with technology in the private sector, including jobs at Ford Motor Company and EDS. While very excited about the prospect of working in the public sector for the first time in her career, Takai realizes her skills and experience will be fully tested as she carries out a massive IT reorganization effort launched by former Gov. John Engler.

This change hits the heart of what some think is essential to making IT a more cost-effective resource for state government -- stripping away redundancies and waste. But changing a generation or more of entrenched culture isn't easy, according to Takai.

"Whenever you bring people together and change the organizational structure, there's concern they won't be able to support the agencies they are responsible to," she said. "We have a major challenge to continue working with them, to make them feel comfortable about the change."

A Relationship with Legislatures
The fiscal crisis in state government casts a shadow over everything. Every agency, including IT, has been asked to pare its budget. At the same time, legislators are coming out of the woodwork and asking hard questions about the value technology is supposed to deliver.

"We have received questions from the Legislature on how we ensure the dollars we spend on a highly visible project are well spent," Takai said. "We need to focus on this in the future through strong project and program management."

Oveson said one of the reasons he was appointed CIO in Utah was to work with the state's Legislature on IT matters.

"I'm here to nurture that relationship along," he said. "That's part of the planning process. It's critical to include them."

Ultimately, that will mean establishing a better return on investment. To do that, state CIOs will have to do a better job at benchmarking projects both before and after they start.

"Adequate public-sector ROI analysis is critical to IT's success," Oveson explained. "We need to do a better job with that around here."
Tod Newcombe Features Editor