Photo by Cade Martin Photo by Cade Martin

New Jersey’s appointment of E. Steven Emanuel as the state’s new CIO looks like another sign that the state is taking its computer woes seriously.

Emanuel, who was the CIO of Montgomery County, Md., since 2007, is known for his candor. Last year he publicly chastised IT vendors for the maintenance fees they’ve been charging to government entities even though the public sector is plagued by budget pressures. After Emanuel’s comments circulated among tech companies, he said many of them bent backward to find compromises.

Emanuel’s plainspoken approach could pair well with Gov. Chris Christie, who also doesn’t mince words. After a series of embarrassing computer crashes last summer — most notably at the Motor Vehicle Commission — Christie proposed a $60 million technology modernization program. The New Jersey Star-Ledger recently reported that Christie deadpanned that he looked for a crank when he turned on his office computer for the first time.

When Emanuel begins work in New Jersey on Dec. 5, one of his first orders of business, he said Friday, will be to start a discussion with all the state’s Cabinet members to get a feel for their needs and what they want the state government’s IT to look like in the future. Emanuel said he’s aware of Christie’s desire to invest in technology, but first it will require a plan.

“I stated [to New Jersey officials] that transformation is about taking some risk, and it should be a shared risk based on good data,” Emanuel wrote in an email to Government Technology on Friday. “I’m led to believe that the Office of Information Technology is looked to for this leadership and decisive element of transformation. So IT assessment — using a ‘cloud first,’ enterprise second, buy vs. build plan — is how I will start. Enacting an open and progressive governance model is another area that I will look at establishing, early and with the right people.”

As the state CIO, Emanuel said he will have oversight over New Jersey’s IT governance, strategy and policy as well as the transformation, he said. The details of how the state chief technology officer will work with him are still being ironed out.

Emanuel will lead the New Jersey Office of Information Technology, which has a staff of 720 people and a $100 million annual budget.

According to an announcement from Christie’s office, during the past five years in Montgomery County, Emanuel was responsible for the development of the county’s first enterprise IT strategic plan and oversaw the implementation for the county’s enterprise financial and human resource system in 2010.

State Treasurer Andrew Sidamon-Eristoff said in a statement Friday that Emanuel “has a strong record of managing overhauls of complex information systems successfully and delivering capital projects on time and within budget.”

Emanuel also has spent decades working in the technology sector of private industry. He was Amtrak’s CIO from 2004 to 2007 and previously also worked for GPU Service Company, the then-operational support organization for Jersey Central Power & Light, Metropolitan Edison, Penelec and GPU Nuclear Corp.

This year Emanuel was named one of Government Technology’s 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers that recognizes leaders who cut through barriers to innovation.

Matt Williams Matt Williams  |  Contributing Writer

Matt Williams was previously the news editor of Govtech.com, and is now a contributor to Government Technology and Public CIO magazines.