The Impact of Agency Consolidation on the Public CIO's Role (Opinion)

State CIOs share strategies for keeping projects intact under possible new administrations.

by / March 31, 2010

If there's a theme for this edition of Public CIO, it's change. We've chosen to look at a couple of issues that could impact an area near and dear to most CIOs' hearts: their careers.

Our cover story provides a prime example. It examines the impact of agency consolidation on the public CIO's role. With state and local government budgets strained to historic levels, public leaders are implementing real organizational changes designed to cut the cost of running government. The good news is that public CIOs are being placed at the helm of some of these newly merged organizations.

Contributing Writer David Raths points out that effective public CIOs have earned reputations as change agents and problem-solvers - attributes that often make them a natural choice for leadership positions. Consolidation itself might reduce the management head count, but putting a business-minded CIO in charge of the merged organization could trigger innovations that drive real efficiency and service gains. That's the idea in Michigan, where Ken Theis - one of the nation's sharpest state CIOs - leads the newly formed Department of Technology, Management and Budget. The same is true in Roanoke County, Va., where IT Director Bill Greeves recently took over operation of the County Emergency Communications Center.

These changes mirror a private-sector trend where CIOs' responsibilities are expanding beyond traditional IT - a healthy development for public CIOs.

Features Editor Andy Opsahl tackles another inevitable change for most public CIOs: the end of their tenure as a jurisdiction's top IT official. The November elections hold the potential for an unusually large amount of turnover among U.S. governors. That means more than 20 state CIOs could be leaving their current positions. Opsahl talks to prominent state CIOs, including California's Teri Takai and New York's Melodie Mayberry-Stewart, about their strategies for preserving key initiatives and maintaining continuity once they leave their current jobs.

That's a crucial concern for state and local governments, which simply can't afford to rewrite technology strategies and priorities every four or eight years. Indeed the point was driven home by Massachusetts CIO Anne Margulies, speaking at Government Technology's Beyond the Beltway conference in March. Margulies, who could face an administration change in November, led the state's successful IT consolidation effort, and now seeks to protect the gains she and her staff labored to implement.

"I'm amazed government works at all, given how much turnover there is," she said. "My governor is up for re-election, and we're quite clear about the fact that our goal is to make sure this is irreversible. We talk about making consolidation CIO-proof and administration-proof."

Finally, regular readers will notice one more change: Me. After eight years of leading Public CIO, founding editor Tod Newcombe moved on to a new project last month. I'll do my best to maintain the high standard set by my good friend and colleague. And I encourage you to send me suggestions and comments for keeping this publication useful and thought-provoking.

By the way, if you want to keep up with Tod, pick up a copy of Governing magazine, where he serves as editor of our newest sister publication.