Pat Shier became Alaska’s director of Enterprise Technology Services in April 2011. Prior to that, the Alaska native spent four years as director of the Alaska Division of Retirement and Benefits, where he led a turnaround that made the troubled agency one of the more sought-after employment destinations in Alaska state government.
Based on your previous work, you were asked to take over Enterprise Technology Services. What did you find when you arrived?
The division was struggling with its own identity. It was struggling with how to have conversations that weren’t limited to discussing failures and shortcomings of not only the individuals in the division, but also of customers and their defects.
How did you address that problem?
I tried to bring to the division a new sense of purpose that aligned with our customers. We asked the business owners instead of the technical leads of the departments to come to the table and tell us their priorities. We came back with a comprehensive plan for meeting those goals. So far, the honeymoon has extended a bit beyond what I expected, largely because of our willingness to listen and be reminded both internally and externally when we begin to stray.
How does your experience in managing on the business side help you as state CIO?
The mantra that I carry around in my pocket and rehearse in staff meetings is that everyone wants value for their money. We have to view ourselves as just another vendor to the state agencies we serve.
On the other hand, you didn’t come from the IT world. What challenges does that create?
Somebody could run into my office with an old modem that they charred at the edges with a blow torch and tell me that our microwave system will come to its knees unless we buy 20 new “fratastats.” If I weren’t cautious, I could fall into that trap. The solution for me is that we have long-term partnerships with a number of vendors. I depend on them for truth-telling, and there are IT managers in other departments with whom I have formed relationships.