Upheaval might best describe 2011. Globally the year will be remembered for the Arab Spring, the Japanese tsunami, the death of Osama bin Laden, the ongoing financial crisis, and, somewhere, the population tipping past the 7 billion mark. In the U.S., presidential politics got into full swing, Steve Jobs’ passing dealt a blow to the technology community, and Occupy Wall Street protests gained momentum in cities around the country.

   In public-sector IT, upheaval was the norm as 2011 saw a significant number of new CIOs, accelerated adoption of cloud computing, and the rise to prominence of the tablet … well, really just the iPad — though Amazon’s Kindle Fire might finally give Apple some real competition.

   In this issue, Government Technology’s traditional year in review, our editorial and design staff recap the year that was. On the following pages you’ll find assessments of the key issues CIOs and public-sector technology professionals faced; a timeline of events; and a few lists showcasing what readers of Govtech.com were most interested in.

    Whether 2011 will be remembered fondly is uncertain, but there is no doubt it was a memorable year. So we invite you to take a few moments and look back. And when you’re done, head to Govtech.com or Facebook.com/GovernmentTechnology and share your thoughts about the year.

IT Leaders Do the CIO Shuffle

Longevity isn’t a hallmark of the CIO profession, and it certainly isn’t for IT leaders who work in government. Oftentimes CIOs must spend political capital in order to push through technology projects and policy changes, and with IT departments expected to produce more results with fewer dollars, the job isn’t exactly low stress.

More so than other years, 2011 stood out as a period of dramatic change in the CIO ranks; they seemed to be playing a game of musical chairs. A few factors were at play.

One, an unprecedented number of states had new governors and, consequently, new leadership in state IT offices. So there was major turnover among state CIOs — more than two dozen new faces across the nation.

Two, some CIOs found greener pastures and new opportunities at other levels of government, perhaps signaling that IT executives with previous experience in the public sector have become more valued. For instance, former Illinois CIO Greg Wass decided to stay in Chicago and lead IT in Cook County; longtime South Dakota CIO Otto Doll moved to Minneapolis to lead the city’s IT efforts.

This career mobility wasn’t confined to the state level — former San Francisco CIO Chris Vein joined the Barack Obama administration as the U.S. deputy CTO for innovation. Vivek Kundra, the nation’s first federal CIO, left the post after two years to take a fellowship at Harvard University. Kundra’s successor was Steven VanRoekel, a former managing director of the FCC.

Montgomery County, Md., CIO Steve Emanuel was named CIO of New Jersey in November.

Some CIOs believe this cross-pollination of leadership in federal, state and local government will foster meaningful collaboration that wouldn’t happen otherwise. In 2011, the White House began an initiative to improve the flexibility of rules attached to federal funding of state-administered programs — Medicaid management is a big one — which CIOs are optimistic could result someday in shared computer systems. More states, cities and counties also appear to be working together — or at least engaging in discussions — to share data centers and applications like email. A few local governments are even sharing IT staff with one another.

Working together might be more necessary than ever, given that in 2011, CIOs said their scope of responsibilities widened. They’re working on health benefit exchanges, managing security of smart infrastructure and overseeing contracts for cloud computing products. These agenda items hardly existed three years ago.

With so much on the table at once, no wonder CIOs rarely stick around for long.

— Matt Williams, Associate Editor