Editor's note: In this series, Public CIO set forth to find answers from several of the nation’s top CIOs who have served or currently are in state, local and federal positions. These firsthand accounts are about how establishing partnerships, trusting and letting go, investing in people, and assessing situations have all been instrumental to smart decision-making. Photo by David Kidd

When I was approached to write an article about the smartest thing I ever did as a CIO, I thought, “Wow, now that is a tough question.” After mulling it over, I decided to write about it from a federal and state perspective.

In the mid-’90s, I was brought in as a consultant at the Administration for Children and Families (ACF), which had become an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as a result of the consolidation of two other agencies — the Family Support Administration and Human Development Services. The primary function of both agencies was to provide grant money, which averaged $45 billion per year, to social programs like Head Start, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, child support and others. The consolidation resulted in the new agency having 36 separate grant systems, each having its own operating system, including hardware appliances, software versions and vendors, communications structure as well as separate IT budgets — it needed an overhaul.

I approached the department CIO and said we needed to have one grant system for ACF. Not only would a single system reduce our operating costs and eliminate redundant hardware and software, it would also realign our resources to better serve our grantee base. The CIO agreed, and I embarked on a five-year strategic plan that brought on an outside vendor to assist me in re-engineering the business processes within ACF and to build one unified grant system. The resulting Grants Administration, Tracking and Evaluation System (GATES) became one of the models for the president’s Grants Management Line of Business initiatives and the U.S. Office of Management and Budget’s Center of Excellence for grants processing for the federal government. Grants.gov was created, whereby all federal grants are funneled through this gateway. Today the Grants Center of Excellence delivers end-to-end grants management services to more than 17 federal partner agencies processing more than $60 billion in grants.

In my other experience as CIO of North Carolina, the governor asked me to reduce IT expenditures across the state. To accomplish this, I conducted an infrastructure study and assessment of the executive branch cabinet agencies. This study was to provide me the information needed to assess the IT landscape of North Carolina and to identify opportunities for efficiencies, either pertaining to costs or operations. The end result of the assessment showed that the state could save an estimated $76.1 million over five years. Before I left office, plans were being formulated that would implement some of the recommendations of the study.

The staff agreed to put forth a plan to outsource the mainframe operations, including the possibility of relocating the equipment within the next fiscal year. Additionally, we awarded a statewide enterprise contract agreement to a managed print services company that would ultimately save the state more than $1 million annually in printer costs for the executive branch agencies.

The decisions I made to assess and strategize from both experiences have been monumental on a state and national level, and definitely the smartest things I’ve done in my career.

More stories in the Smartest Thing series:

Vicki Irey | Get Out There!

Irey is CIO of Overland Park, Kan

Terry Bledsoe | Investing in People

Bledsoe is the CIO of North Carolina's Catawba County.

Gail M. Roper | Expanding my Role

 Roper is the CIO of Raleigh, N.C.