Strategic Leadership: Colorado's IT Overhaul Model

The case for Cabinet-level CIOs.

by / August 20, 2008

We often discuss the importance of strategic leadership in this magazine, but the instances are few where we can both document where it's happening and talk to the principals involved. Like the private sector, few government CIOs report directly to their CEOs: mayors, county executives, governors or heads of state.

Yet most experts who analyze IT's role in government and industry strongly support having a CIO who reports to the chief executive. The reasons have been around for a while. CIOs who are in the CEO's Cabinet are in a better position to strategically align IT with the organization's vision and direction. Having a seat at the table allows a CIO to communicate to the CEO and his or her direct subordinates about the purpose and importance of IT, and it increases the likelihood of having IT integrated into the organization's mission. While sitting the CIO next to the CEO doesn't guarantee success, it certainly reduces the likelihood of a failed IT policy.

In government, the story of IT's role has been mixed. I-government has succeeded, with massive investments in systems that collect and store information, but e-government remains a work in progress. Outdated or inadequate funding, procurement and governance models have held back how automation can take public service to the next level. The most critical missing element has been leadership that can lift IT out of its current state of parochial and siloed systems to the enterprise level, where it can transform services, generate greater operational efficiencies and boost worker productivity

In 2006, Bill Ritter was elected governor of Colorado and took over an IT organization that, at best, was stagnating with decentralized systems, and at worst, was failing. He appointed Mike Locatis his CIO, put him in his Cabinet and then introduced legislation to overhaul how IT functions at the state level. That bill became law in May of this year. Ritter and Locatis believe so strongly in what they are trying to do that they invited Public CIO to sit down with them to discuss what they did, how they did it and most importantly, why. This issue reports on those findings.

While Colorado's experiment has just begun, it clearly stands out as a leadership model for other states as it pertains to IT. If the public sector is to meet the needs of 21st-century society, IT will have to play an integral part in public administration. That can only happen with the right kind of leadership that gives IT a seat at the table. Let's hope the Colorado model succeeds.

Tod Newcombe, Editor Editor, Public CIO