Born, raised and educated in Germany, Karl Kaiser made his way to CIO of Minneapolis via various positions in the information services arena. In his time with the city, Kaiser has emphasized a business approach to information technology. Before coming to Minneapolis, Kaiser held positions at Anoka and Scott counties in Minnesota.
What was the climate like when you arrived?
This department was made up of a lot of bright technical people that would be grabbed in hallways and told to "go do this" and "go do that." There was no focus on outcome. There was no focus on the cost and financial aspect of it. There was no focus on business needs. It was a bunch of techies who were playing around with technology. When I came aboard, I said this was not the way we should be. We restructured ourselves to become a business within a business. We established an approach where we will have service-level agreements with our customers that define their expectations of the department. That took a bit of doing because that was a major culture change.
How do you make decisions?
We work very closely with our customers. We are a service organization: We provide information services for the city. We have an element of our organization that deals with our customers and talks to customers about business needs. Not technology needs -- business needs. There's a fine distinction. Then we, in our department, provide the necessary business analysis and make certain recommendations about how technology can be applied to resolve those business needs.
Describe the distinction between business and technology needs.
It used to be that departments went to a trade show, found a beautiful widget or gadget and said, "We need to have that." Then they would throw it over the fence to the installation services department and say, "Go install it and do it." They were more focused on technology for its own sake. We have redirected that attitude to become more business-needs focused. In other words, let's not worry about technology up front. Let's figure out what is your business need and let us then determine the appropriate technology to leverage that business need.
What are your views on IT management?
IT management has undergone a shift from being a technical department relegated to basements of buildings, to more of a strategic asset to the executive team within any organization -- be that public sector or private sector. I think information is vital to conduct your business. To have appropriate information strategies in place, you need the information services organization to be part of the strategy setting of an organization. As a consequence, creating the position of CIO was a very good idea. The mistake made in the past is that organizations have picked up that idea, but they promoted the wrong idea into the job. They promoted more "technically oriented" into the job, but this is much more of a business and strategic function.
Where is IT going in Minneapolis?
Toward taking advantage of the power of the Internet and aligning city governments or the public sector with the private sector in terms of the ability to leverage the technology.