"It makes you think that CIO stands for 'career is over,'" said former South Carolina CIO Matt DeZee, who can be excused for a little dark humor after a summer in which state CIOs in Arkansas and California made unceremonious exits. In September, DeZee resigned from his position to resume a career in the private sector. November's three-dozen gubernatorial elections are certain to cause more unceremonious exits, visibly underscoring the inextricable link between an appointed CIO and the fortunes of the governor.

The role of the public sector chief information officer is at a crossroads, and likely will morph as new and returning administrations contend with changing political and service-delivery demands, not to mention the hangover of a combined $50 billion revenue shortfall across 45 states. That should be no surprise, given the evolution of the CIO's role since its inception three decades ago as an extension of the accounting function, responsible for the care and feeding of the accounting systems.

From that narrowly focused starting point, organizations moved on to IT managers who had a heads-down operational focus, and then to non-IT executives who were recruited to align technology investments with the organization's business objectives or mission. Those things are necessary, however insufficient, in a political environment, given that technical and business expertise provide no guarantee against the liabilities of a political tin ear.

As a result, governors have increasingly sought out CIOs who bring executive leadership, a future orientation and political acumen to the act of governing through technology. "The trend has been that the CIO is a commissioner, a secretary or a cabinet official," said Rock Regan, Connecticut CIO and president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). "Governors need to have somebody they can trust. They can come in and get a handle on things and then, as the governor sets the priorities, have somebody who can deliver."

Not all CIOs are created equal. The differences are largely structural. The Center for Digital Government reviewed state CIO and governance structures across five broad characteristics:

Paul W. Taylor  |  Contributing Writer