a growing number of mayors and governors demand it.

Evolving Again?

Perhaps all of this leads to a more prominent role for government CIOs -- but a role potentially very different from before.

A growing number of high-profile CIOs aren't "IT people" in the traditional sense. Olson, an architect by trade, and Kelso, a law professor, didn't spend their entire careers in IT shops. Likewise, Wisconsin CIO Matt Miszewski -- 2006 NASCIO president -- is an attorney and founder of a data management firm for political candidates.

All three are adept at bridging the gap between bits-and-bytes technology issues and real-world needs of policymakers and agency managers.

Another impact of this shift is less emphasis on reporting lines and greater focus on effectiveness. After years of advocating for Cabinet-level state CIO positions, even NASCIO changed course. The group now says it's more important for CIOs to be involved in daily government operations than to answer directly to the governor.

"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," said NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson in a July interview with Government Technology.

Getting Religion

In reality, CIOs' effectiveness seems to have little direct correlation to their position on an organizational chart.

Takai -- who enjoys a direct reporting line to her governor -- pulled off a huge consolidation and centralization of state IT resources. Olson, another Cabinet-level CIO, spearheads a sweeping effort to change how Texas buys and operates IT.

On the other hand, Kelso -- who until recently operated without even an IT agency -- is consolidating the state's data centers and implementing a strategic sourcing initiative.

Miszewski -- who reports to the Wisconsin secretary of administration -- used innovative enterprise service bus technology to interconnect information throughout the state, and is now preparing to launch a state portal, which he says will set a new standard for electronic government.

Clearly there are multiple ways of getting the job done. As Paul Taylor, chief strategy officer of the Center for Digital Government, put it, "In 2005, pragmatism became the new religion for CIOs."

The good news for CIOs is that elected officials and policymakers once again view technology as a transformative force within government. The next big challenge for IT professionals, however, is turning that vision into results.

Turf Battle

Interest among big-city mayors in municipal wireless networks didn't just signal technology's return to the political stage, it also triggered one of the year's higher-profile IT policy issues.

Announcements by Philadelphia and San Francisco detailing the cities' plans to spur development of citywide wireless networks attracted all sorts of attention -- for and against the initiatives. The wireless technology itself isn't new, but the big-city projects mark a shift in municipal wireless activity.

Originally these initiatives offered a way for small communities to deploy Internet connectivity they don't necessarily get from private companies. Now large cities promote wireless initiatives as a way to streamline government operations, strengthen public safety and link underserved citizens to the Web.

The vested interests that stand to lose the most if municipal wireless networks take off across the country -- incumbent telecommunications companies -- were not pleased when two cities with populations of more than 1 million said, "We're going to do it ourselves."

As well as being a potentially huge hit to corporate coffers because of lost customers, these announcements give other big cities reason to consider doing the same. One thing government is good at is copying what other jurisdictions do

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor