Looking for a Few Good CIOs

Looking for a Few Good CIOs

by / November 18, 2003
The subject of this month's cover story was a pleasure to cover. Karen Evans started her career in federal government 20 years ago at one of the lowest civil service rankings, and through hard work and constant improvement of her IT skills, knowledge and leadership, she has risen to the pinnacle of her profession.

The story doesn't stop there. As everyone in public-sector IT knows, Evans is stepping into big shoes. Her predecessor, Mark Forman, did an impressive job, by virtually all accounts, in getting the vast federal bureaucracy on the same page in terms of creating and launching a number of strategic e-government initiatives.

Now it's Evans' turn to take up the reins and keep the program moving forward. Most analysts agree the job won't be easy -- for one thing, Congress is not providing any new funding -- but they also agree if anyone can handle the job, it's Evans. As our interview with her shows, she has broad knowledge of federal IT issues, the drive to get things done, and people skills to work with diverse groups that often have differing agendas within government.

It's important to remember, however, there's another story here as well -- namely CIO turnover. What is happening in Washington, D.C., is happening throughout the country. CIOs are leaving their jobs, creating a demand for skilled replacements. More than half the states have changed CIOs since December 2002, and that doesn't include all agency CIOs and deputy CIOs who left jobs as well. The question is: Where are the new CIOs going to come from, and will they have the skills to lead in the increasingly complex world of public-sector IT?

Our feature on CIO education -- Head of Their Class -- takes a close look at where the next generation of public-sector CIOs is coming from, and where they are getting their education. One thing is clear: the number of courses and degree programs available to would-be CIOs is growing, as is the number of people admitted into executive-level, public-sector IT education programs. For instance, CIO University, which is run by the General Services Administration in conjunction with a number of prestigious universities, has seen its graduation numbers skyrocket from 18 in 2000, to 138 in 2003. In five years, the Information School at the University of Washington has tripled in size.

It's a promising sign, but as everyone knows, more must be done. Today's public-sector CIO needs to be a business person as well as a technology strategist, and it doesn't hurt to have a good understanding of the political process in his or her jurisdiction. They need all this at a time when government is undergoing a transformation as the Information Age matures.

Finding qualified people willing to take on that responsibility at public servants' pay isn't going to be easy.
Tod Newcombe Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology.