It's no secret the CIO's job has changed in the last 15 years. From a straightforward, "keep the computer systems going" role to a thoughtful, "about the state's IT strategy, governor" role, CIOs' stock has risen. They have found their way to governors' Cabinets or the office two doors away from the mayor -- a far cry from reporting to a deputy director of finance or administration.

So what's the next step? Some believe CIOs are poised to become the next generation of leaders.

Stepping Stones

The rationale for CIOs being leaders of the future is somewhat based on how past leaders ascended to leadership positions -- CEOs used to come from the financial/accounting ranks, but as importance of customer service to a company's bottom line grew, the door opened to sales and marketing pros.

With technology now a central facet of business operations, CIO stature has grown accordingly. One could reason that CIOs have gained a unique, enterprise-wide view of their organizations that positions them to become CEOs.

Though CIOs typically don't top the list of possible replacements for leadership positions in government, the precedent is there, said Darrell West, director of the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University, and lead author of annual e-government reports.

"Increasingly CIOs are being looked to for leadership, and are taking more and more of a public role," West said. "Someone who is really enterprising could use the CIO role as a launching pad for elected office. If Wesley Clark can do this at the presidential level, a CIO could do it at the state level."

CIOs bring communication skills, budget experience, effectiveness and efficiency, he said, which are qualities voters like in public officials. A CIO demonstrating a consistent track record of success would have a better chance of winning an election, West said, adding that a seemingly perfect statewide office for CIOs is state treasurer.

"Typically information people are analytical types," he said. "They're not generally 'rah rah,' overly emotional types of people. A treasurer's office or an office where efficiency or effectiveness are highly desired qualities would be the kinds of offices that would play to the skills of IT people. Sometimes, if somebody can do well in that job, they can run for lieutenant governor or governor."

It's the escalator effect, West said -- starting lower on the escalator of politics is necessary to get to the top, unless a candidate has enough name recognition or personal wealth to bypass the escalator.

But politics means partisanship, an area where CIOs generally don't have tremendous amounts of experience. It's one thing to be appointed by a Democratic governor, for example; it's another to be active in a state's partisan caucus. Though lack of partisan skills could hurt CIOs, West said a nonpartisan label is an advantage because voters have expressed such cynicism with politicians.

"People actually like someone who is a problem solver, as opposed to a partisan," he said. "Voters are really fed up with partisans on both sides because they feel like they don't really solve problems."

CIOs also could parlay their role in building a city, county or state Web site into a successful election because the public has gotten used to e-government, perceiving it as the government of the future. Hitching oneself to that sort of perception is a good thing for anyone running for office, West said.

But transferring skills from one office to a higher office isn't always easy, especially with the increased policy responsibility a higher office brings. CIOs may be able to extol their knowledge of technology policy, but a governor must contend with 10 or 15 policy areas, West said.

Name identification -- one key to gaining recognition and raising

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor