of a project has to be performed by someone independent of the project staff.

"Even if you've got oversight within a department, you have to organize that in a way that the people doing the oversight are independent of the project staff," he said. "That covers probably half of our IT projects."

Strong in a Different Way

The role of California's CIO will change too -- a move consistent with an emerging trend away from the Cabinet-level enterprise CIO and toward a federated approach to IT governance. That shift puts more operational responsibility in the hands of individual agencies.

"The state's CIO needs to be operating mostly at a strategic level, and should not be dropping down into operational disputes or into specific procurement activities," Kelso said. "It's very easy to get pulled down into those things."

The old approach forced state CIOs to spend an inordinate amount of time scrutinizing operational details of implementations instead of setting an overall IT direction. That danger is magnified in California because of its immense size, but the issue isn't unique to the state.

"We've come to a good understanding of the roles and responsibilities the CIO should be playing, that the control agencies -- the departments of Finance and General Services and the Department of Personnel Administration -- ultimately should be playing, and then all of the service agencies," Kelso said. "In my mind, there's much greater clarity than when DOIT was around because DOIT was partly an oversight and control agency, partly an advocate for IT projects -- a conflict in roles that made it difficult for the department to really exercise the sort of strategic leadership the state requires."

Kelso said the fact that he doesn't preside over a bureaucratic empire works to his advantage. Since DOIT closed its doors, responsibility for developing IT policy in California has rested with Kelso and an assistant. When the CIO talked with Government Technology last October, the meeting took place in a law school conference room, not a state office building.

Kelso said state agencies simply don't perceive him as a threat, allowing him to create a level of trust among the many players in California IT.

"I don't have turf I'm trying to protect," he said, "and that does help."

Still, that doesn't mean a weak CIO; it means a CIO that's strong in a slightly different way. Large corporations have strong CEOs, CFOs and COOs, but those positions aren't involved in operational details -- that's what staff people do, Kelso said.

"What you want the CEO and the CIO of large corporations to be doing is -- and I don't mean to be flip about it -- that 'vision thing,'" he said. "But there's no question that it's got to be strong leadership. In a bureaucratic structure as complex as California's, the only way you get to the point where you've got a strategic plan -- where there's widespread acceptance of the direction you're setting -- is if you've got a strong leader who's got very good communication abilities, who's able to generate a sense of trust among all of the stakeholders -- many of whom have very different interests and very different job responsibilities."

To a large degree, this means that California's CIO has to be strong enough to trust state agencies to make the right decisions and also to give them sufficient power to carry out those decisions, according to Kelso.

"There has to be mutual trust," he said. "You have to develop a sense of confidence that if I do a strategic plan and I'm able to get agreement to it, at that point the Department of Finance, the Department of General Services and all of the

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor