advise policy-makers and agency heads on how to best organize state IT infrastructure, assets and purchasing.

As one chief put it, "Agency heads don't think of CIOs as business people." While that view may be true, most state CIOs would be disappointed to believe that observation sums up their expertise. Unfortunately it may be the prevailing opinion held by state policy advisers, agency heads and program administrators across the country. This view completely ignores the CIO's value as a strategic partner in creating solutions for major policy challenges. Among other things, CIOs are business process engineers who can play a critical role in providing solutions for creating better policy outcomes.

The result of these disconnects is that while IT solutions have tremendous value for improving policy outcomes, they frequently are not considered as a policy approach or an integral part of a policy solution, and CIOs are too often an afterthought in the policy-making process.

Closing the Gap

Kentucky CIO Aldona Valicenti said she believes CIOs must make these connections up front. "Most policy-makers view CIOs strictly as solutions implementers," she said. "They are not sought out on management issues. In addressing policy issues there is opportunity to address management issues, which in many cases need to be streamlined or fixed before technology solutions are put in place. As CIOs, good working relationships with policy and budget people are critical, so they know that's the point where we come in."

Just like IT professionals, policy-makers and policy advisers frequently operate in a world of their own -- complete with its own language and worldview. What drives them most, however, is creating a desired outcome through effective public policy. A meeting of the minds is needed to create a vision that brings IT solutions and those who manage and implement them into the policy-making comfort zone. The more policy advisers understand IT as a potent strategy in creating desired outcomes, the easier it will be to close the gap between these two worlds.

As Groucho Marx said, "What we've got here is a failure to communicate."

To get the message across, CIOs and IT solutions providers need to start thinking, talking in policy terms and approaching solutions with policy outcomes clearly in mind. Words such as "enterprise" and "architecture" mean little to policy advisers when trying to ensure prescription coverage for the elderly, assure quality education or prevent a terrorist attack.

Since homeland defense is relatively new and requires cooperation of multiple agencies and levels of government, the challenge to states is significant. Singer recalled one of Georgia's early efforts to create a communication channel among the state's 158 counties.

"When Tom Ridge and the folks at homeland defense were saying we needed to have intelligence capabilities to share information, Georgia had not considered IT to be a component of homeland defense," he recalled. "So what the homeland defense folks did was go out and buy a fax machine for each of the sheriffs. I think you have that same kind of naivet

Thom Rubel  |  Contributing Writer