The Better Part of Valor

The Cabinet seems to have lost its luster for state CIOs.

by / June 27, 2005 0
The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) recently reversed a stance it fought long and hard for: that CIOs should assume roles in governors' Cabinets across the country, directly reporting to governors and on equal footing with other big-time department heads or secretaries.

The move reflects a growing belief within NASCIO's current Executive Committee that what the CIO does daily is more important to government than the CIO's position on the organizational chart. Removing CIOs from the governor's Cabinet also could inject needed stability into the position.

As Cabinet members, CIOs changed when governors left office. The current trend may let CIOs span administrations, producing better continuity in government IT strategies.

The jury is still out on what the changes could mean for the CIO position.

At first glance, it seems this devolution is a loss of power and prestige. There's little doubt CIOs' stature grew over the last few years. Governors saw the value of having a CIO in their Cabinet to consult before committing to large executive-branch IT projects. Other Cabinet heads also saw that the CIO had the governor's ear -- and that sort of political capital can be spent in many ways.

But some argue that moving down the food chain could give CIOs more power than before. The move may increase CIOs' influence by aligning them with budget or finance directors -- the brass actually running the day-to-day show in some state governments.


Talking Points
NASCIO led the push over the last few years to elevate CIOs to Cabinet status, and the group's decision to remove that objective from its strategic plan is eyebrow-raising, if nothing else. That push seemed to suggest reporting lines are very important, but NASCIO's current Executive Committee has signaled more concern about what the CIO does daily.

"Our current leadership has clearly articulated to the membership through the strategic planning we did last year that it's more important the CIO be involved in the business decisions of state government -- running the business of IT -- and not critical that they be direct reports to the governor," said Doug Robinson, executive director of NASCIO.

"We have many CIOs who are very effective and have the necessary authority commensurate with the responsibility they need to get the job done -- and they don't report to the governor," he explained.

Getting what you want is dangerous, and CIOs have paid a price for reporting to the governor -- when the governor goes, the CIO goes. The CIO has been politicized by that cozy relationship.

"Several CIOs tell me they find themselves in a more advantageous position not directly reporting to the governor because they can focus more directly on the business activities of IT, as opposed to getting into some of the partisan issues," Robinson said.

It's not that NASCIO doesn't want the profession to advance -- the association realizes somebody needs to control IT at an enterprise level, and CIOs clearly have the expertise to fill that role.

"I don't think we're seeing an erosion of that at all," he said. "If I was seeing that, I would be concerned."


Walking Papers
Nationally a handful of states have rearranged reporting lines for their CIOs, according to NASCIO. "When you look to the reporting arrangements and governance models, we're seeing a couple of things," Robinson said. "One is probably a flip by four or five states of the CIO going from a chief executive line of report to a departmental or Cabinet line of report."

Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Nebraska recently changed CIO reporting lines from the governor's executive office to department-line reporting, such as a department of administration, according to Robinson. In addition, he continued, Virginia is a variation on that theme -- changing from an executive line to an IT investment board.

These changes come during an unsettled time for the CIO position. CIO turnover this year cut a swath through the middle of the country. NASCIO counted 11 CIOs stepping down, Robinson said, adding that several CIOs left office after the November 2004 elections.

Robinson said he views the turnover and change in reporting relationships as a cycle instead of a trend -- one caused by a mixture of complex, behind-the-scenes issues, especially states' fiscal pressures.

For the last two years in particular, the public sector focused on serious and severe cost reductions, he explained, and some CIOs didn't have the requisite skills to deal with a fiscally austere environment. If a CIO came into a state during times of fairly generous IT allocations, he or she didn't face the higher level of accountability that today's draconian cost cutting forces on CIOs.

"Having lived through two cycles of that, I know it can be very problematic at the state level," Robinson said. "It can cause a lot of friction."

Some CIOs weren't able to handle the strain created by this environment, he explained, because they had either come from a pure operational mode and had concerned themselves mostly with keeping the green lights blinking, or they came from a policy/strategic vision background that didn't prepare them for making difficult changes to the nuts and bolts of a state IT shop's business.

"Life in the fishbowl can be really tough for people who haven't been in that position," Robinson said.

Still, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. NASCIO's research found offsetting changes that indicate at least incremental improvements in solidifying executive reporting lines in other states.

Robinson mentioned Utah, North Carolina, Arkansas, Ohio, New Mexico, Indiana, California and West Virginia as examples where the CIO now reports to the governor.


Kentucky Moves
The CIO position in Kentucky changed significantly as a result of a realignment program targeting the state's Finance and Administration Cabinet. Gov. Ernie Fletcher set the realignment in motion through executive order in mid-2004.

The executive order moved the governor's Office of Technology under the Finance and Administration Cabinet, renamed it the Commonwealth Office of Technology (COT) and created a commissioner of technology position to oversee COT. This official reports to the secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

Mike Inman, Kentucky's commissioner of technology, was appointed to the job in May 2004 by Fletcher. Inman said he doesn't believe COT's placement or his reporting line to the secretary of finance and administration have reduced his power.

"Aldona [Valicenti, the state's former CIO] had a direct line to the secretary of the Executive Cabinet," Inman said. "She was a great spokesperson for IT, but she didn't have a lot of delivery capability. The laws on the books here are fantastic. Any CIO would give their eyeteeth for that kind of legislative support.

"The problem we had is that in the previous administration, no one had the intestinal fortitude to enforce that," Inman explained. "This governor does."

It's not that access to the governor doesn't have a certain kind of power, he said, but his position as commissioner of technology within the Finance and Administration Cabinet also gives him the power to execute IT plans across the enterprise.

"I don't go to the governor's Cabinet meetings, but the guy who goes there and speaks for me is Robbie Rudolph, the secretary of finance, and he carries a big stick," Inman said. "If I was going there as the representative of technology, I would be begging from the rest of the Cabinet for everything I got. He goes there holding the purse strings."

Even though he knows the governor personally, Inman said, he believes he couldn't sway the governor's opinion the same way Rudolph can, given the secretary's position as master of the state's wallet. Inman admits to a bit of skepticism when he was first offered the job and was told it was not the state CIO position, but he agreed to the terms regardless.

"Looking at it today, it's hard for me to find a downside to this," he said. "I would spend a lot more time out there trying to persuade people to see things from our point of view and get onboard with us about some of the efficiencies we're trying to bring if I was sitting in the Cabinet meeting than I do today.

"There are times when there are things that I might prefer to do a little bit differently," he said, "but I would tell you that what's allowing us to make progress today is working directly for the person who holds the purse strings."


It's All About Alignment
Kentucky's new structure reflects the importance of daily operations in state government, said John Kost, managing vice president of Gartner Government Research Worldwide, and former Michigan CIO.

"You can't just look at who's at the top of the heap," he said. "You've got to look at who's running day-to-day operations. If under the Fletcher administration, the secretary of finance and administration is taking a more active role in IT and making sure it's well run throughout state government, then everybody benefits from that -- even though on paper, it appears the CIO's role has been diminished."

It's a personality issue, Kost said, explaining that particularly in state government, it's all about who the governor is, what he or she cares about and who gets appointed to run the everyday operations.

If a governor is elected who's big on vision but small on management and who then appoints his former campaign manager as chief of staff, IT may never rise to a very high level in anybody's mind, Kost said. In comparison, if a gung ho corporate executive is elected governor, he or she will likely appoint a COO and get down to serious business.

"Chances are, the pendulum is going to swing to the center again, in terms of being centralized," Kost continued. "It's very personality driven, and also very predictable. I can almost tell by who wins the election what kind of person they're going to appoint as CIO and where the CIO is going to be located in the organization.

"Case in point, the last election," Kost continued. "Mitch Daniels gets elected as governor of Indiana, and what's the first thing he does practically? He elevates the CIO position. "He brings in a hotshot character from the private sector, and they are kicking ass. It's very predictable, in part because of his background at OMB [Office of Management and Budget], but also because of his style as a corporate executive."

Another key point is how a governor defines the business of a CIO, Kost continued, and if the CIO's job is to provide services, and nothing else, he or she can be anywhere in the organization.

But if the CIO's job is to in some way control or regulate the kinds of IT decisions going on elsewhere in the organization, then the CIO's alignment under a department of finance or administration seems to make sense, he said.


View From the Top
The relationship between a governor, technology as a whole and the CIO in particular has long been fluid, said Peter Wiley, former director of the Office of Management Consulting at the National Governors Association.
report."

Iowa, Wisconsin, Kentucky and Nebraska recently changed CIO reporting lines from the governor's executive office to department-line reporting, such as a department of administration, according to Robinson. In addition, he continued, Virginia is a variation on that theme -- changing from an executive line to an IT investment board.

These changes come during an unsettled time for the CIO position. CIO turnover this year cut a swath through the middle of the country. NASCIO counted 11 CIOs stepping down, Robinson said, adding that several CIOs left office after the November 2004 elections.

Robinson said he views the turnover and change in reporting relationships as a cycle instead of a trend -- one caused by a mixture of complex, behind-the-scenes issues, especially states' fiscal pressures.

For the last two years in particular, the public sector focused on serious and severe cost reductions, he explained, and some CIOs didn't have the requisite skills to deal with a fiscally austere environment. If a CIO came into a state during times of fairly generous IT allocations, he or she didn't face the higher level of accountability that today's draconian cost cutting forces on CIOs.

"Having lived through two cycles of that, I know it can be very problematic at the state level," Robinson said. "It can cause a lot of friction."

Some CIOs weren't able to handle the strain created by this environment, he explained, because they had either come from a pure operational mode and had concerned themselves mostly with keeping the green lights blinking, or they came from a policy/strategic vision background that didn't prepare them for making difficult changes to the nuts and bolts of a state IT shop's business.

"Life in the fishbowl can be really tough for people who haven't been in that position," Robinson said.

Still, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. NASCIO's research found offsetting changes that indicate at least incremental improvements in solidifying executive reporting lines in other states.

Robinson mentioned Utah, North Carolina, Arkansas, Ohio, New Mexico, Indiana, California and West Virginia as examples where the CIO now reports to the governor.


Kentucky Moves
The CIO position in Kentucky changed significantly as a result of a realignment program targeting the state's Finance and Administration Cabinet. Gov. Ernie Fletcher set the realignment in motion through executive order in mid-2004.

The executive order moved the governor's Office of Technology under the Finance and Administration Cabinet, renamed it the Commonwealth Office of Technology (COT) and created a commissioner of technology position to oversee COT. This official reports to the secretary of the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

Mike Inman, Kentucky's commissioner of technology, was appointed to the job in May 2004 by Fletcher. Inman said he doesn't believe COT's placement or his reporting line to the secretary of finance and administration have reduced his power.

"Aldona [Valicenti, the state's former CIO] had a direct line to the secretary of the Executive Cabinet," Inman said. "She was a great spokesperson for IT, but she didn't have a lot of delivery capability. The laws on the books here are fantastic. Any CIO would give their eyeteeth for that kind of legislative support.

"The problem we had is that in the previous administration, no one had the intestinal fortitude to enforce that," Inman explained. "This governor does."

It's not that access to the governor doesn't have a certain kind of power, he said, but his position as commissioner of technology within the Finance and Administration Cabinet also gives him the power to execute IT plans across the enterprise.

"I don't go to the governor's Cabinet meetings, but the guy who goes there and speaks for me is Robbie Rudolph, the secretary of finance, and he carries a big stick," Inman said. "If I was going there as the representative of technology, I would be begging from the rest of the Cabinet for everything I got. He goes there holding the purse strings."

Even though he knows the governor personally, Inman said, he believes he couldn't sway the governor's opinion the same way Rudolph can, given the secretary's position as master of the state's wallet. Inman admits to a bit of skepticism when he was first offered the job and was told it was not the state CIO position, but he agreed to the terms regardless.

"Looking at it today, it's hard for me to find a downside to this," he said. "I would spend a lot more time out there trying to persuade people to see things from our point of view and get onboard with us about some of the efficiencies we're trying to bring if I was sitting in the Cabinet meeting than I do today.

"There are times when there are things that I might prefer to do a little bit differently," he said, "but I would tell you that what's allowing us to make progress today is working directly for the person who holds the purse strings."


It's All About Alignment
Kentucky's new structure reflects the importance of daily operations in state government, said John Kost, managing vice president of Gartner Government Research Worldwide, and former Michigan CIO.

"You can't just look at who's at the top of the heap," he said. "You've got to look at who's running day-to-day operations. If under the Fletcher administration, the secretary of finance and administration is taking a more active role in IT and making sure it's well run throughout state government, then everybody benefits from that -- even though on paper, it appears the CIO's role has been diminished."

It's a personality issue, Kost said, explaining that particularly in state government, it's all about who the governor is, what he or she cares about and who gets appointed to run the everyday operations.

If a governor is elected who's big on vision but small on management and who then appoints his former campaign manager as chief of staff, IT may never rise to a very high level in anybody's mind, Kost said. In comparison, if a gung ho corporate executive is elected governor, he or she will likely appoint a COO and get down to serious business.

"Chances are, the pendulum is going to swing to the center again, in terms of being centralized," Kost continued. "It's very personality driven, and also very predictable. I can almost tell by who wins the election what kind of person they're going to appoint as CIO and where the CIO is going to be located in the organization.

"Case in point, the last election," Kost continued. "Mitch Daniels gets elected as governor of Indiana, and what's the first thing he does practically? He elevates the CIO position. "He brings in a hotshot character from the private sector, and they are kicking ass. It's very predictable, in part because of his background at OMB [Office of Management and Budget], but also because of his style as a corporate executive."

Another key point is how a governor defines the business of a CIO, Kost continued, and if the CIO's job is to provide services, and nothing else, he or she can be anywhere in the organization.

But if the CIO's job is to in some way control or regulate the kinds of IT decisions going on elsewhere in the organization, then the CIO's alignment under a department of finance or administration seems to make sense, he said.


View From the Top
The relationship between a governor, technology as a whole and the CIO in particular has long been fluid, said Peter Wiley, former director of the Office of Management Consulting at the National Governors Association.

This was one area in which various governors interacted with the state's central IT agency and the CIO in completely different ways, Wiley said, noting that not much time has passed since governors first began identifying the heads of their information services divisions as CIOs.

Wiley, who is now chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Thomas Allen, worked from 1994 to 1998 as a senior staff member for then-governor of Maine, Angus King. One of the first steps King took was creating a state CIO, Wiley recalled.

"We took the position of the director of the Bureau of Information Systems -- the individual in that position was retiring -- and crafted it into a CIO position," Wiley said. "The CIO was still housed in the Department of Administrative Services. Angus wasn't a big guy for flowcharts and organizational structure charts anyway. He just said, 'OK, it's going to be here in the DAS, but the person is going to have open access to me, and I'm going to have open access to my CIO.'"

Many governors underwent the same process in the mid to late 1990s after taking office and realizing they had to devise some strategy for dealing with technology, he said, even if they didn't place high political value on it.

Wiley said he sees the reporting-line pendulum swinging back and forth. For many years, governors didn't emphasize CIOs. In a reversal of course over the last few years, governors elevated CIOs. Now, a devolution of CIOs appears.

Does that devolution matter?

Not really, Wiley said. If a CIO can tell the governor a couple of agencies aren't playing ball on a particular IT project near and dear to the governor, and the governor summons those agency heads to his or her office and gives them what for, it's rather clear the CIO carries a big stick.

"To me, it's not a big deal that the CIO doesn't necessarily go to the Wednesday morning Cabinet meeting and sip coffee and eat muffins with the Cabinet people," Wiley said, so long as the CIO is given the power to raise key technology questions and seek answers to those questions when programs and initiatives appear on the Cabinet's agenda. "I think we're getting a natural evolution, a process that recognizes the importance of technology, and recognizes at the same time that technology is a fairly unique offering among all the resources in departments of state government," said Wiley.

"Technology just may not be one [area] where traditional Cabinet membership is the most efficient way to do it."
Shane Peterson Associate Editor