SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Like any other job, being a public-sector CIO has a learning curve. You can’t step in cold and expect immediate success.
At the CIO Academy -- an annual conference of state and local IT officials hosted by Government Technology’s parent company, e.Republic -- three CIOs of California state agencies shared tips and identified the biggest challenges of being a new CIO.
On the panel Tuesday, Feb. 28, were Andrea Wallin-Rohmann, CIO of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation; Dale Jablonsky, assistant executive officer of IT services for the California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS); and Jeff Funk, CIO of the California Department of Fish and Game.
Wallin-Rohmann said that for a new CIO of a larger agency, it’s important to build relationships right away with the other C-level executives in your organization. In 2008, when Wallin-Rohmann started as the corrections department’s CIO, she said it was important to start a process of working with the other chiefs of the organization to discuss and understand the organization’s operations and challenges. From there, she and the other chiefs needed to assess the value of IT in the organization and where gaps existed.
For new CIOs working in smaller government organizations, Funk said it’s important to be creative in how you provide services. Finding a business partner can be helpful for providing a financial backbone for projects if your organization doesn’t have the budget to fund projects on its own, Funk said.
When working with people in your organization who are not in IT, Funk said it’s important to avoid the use of jargon. IT executives should be using business terms, for example, when dealing with business aspects of a government organization. “As IT professionals, we deal with people who don’t understand IT, but IT people need to speak the language of business, not the language of IT,” Funk said.
Jablonsky said it’s not always clear how government IT dollars are spent, so it’s important to make that information available, particularly showing how much money is spent on software and hardware. By showing records that your organization hasn’t purchased new hardware or hasn’t performed a hardware refresh in several years, that information will bring attention to the fact that the hardware needs to be replaced.
Funk said that when IT projects reach a successful completion, it’s important for a government IT organization to make it known that the project was a success. The success needs to be celebrated by talking about it to the rest of the government agency and posting about it on the organization’s intranet, in order to create awareness.