5 Tools Public CIOs Find Indispensable

A look at the tech and tools that IT leaders rely on to get the job done.

by / March 20, 2015
Jacksonville, Fla., CIO Usha Mohan says her lightweight ultrabook does the work of three devices, and cuts down on hard copies. eRepublic/David Kidd

Public CIOs have a lot to balance. From building relationships internally and externally to developing their teams to rolling out systems that impact both government operations and the public, the CIO has no time to waste. Luckily there are some tools (both high and low tech) that can help IT leaders to stay connected and get the most out of each workday. Five state and local government CIOs shared with us the technology and tools they rely on to get the job done. (Get more job-critical tips in our CIO Survival Guide, which outlines how to respond to some of the biggest issues you may face on the job.)

Social Reminder

Bryan Sastokas, CIO of Oakland, Calif., is a fan of Refresh, a mobile app that searches the Web and social networks to deliver insights about the people in your contact list. Essentially it’s a digital cheat sheet that digs up info about the personalities and priorities of people you interact with. Those details can help CIOs sharpen their communication with busy decision-makers. “Your time with a governor or mayor of a large city is very limited, so you need to make the most of it,” said Sastokas. “I find that Refresh gives me a lot of background on who they are as an individual, what they’re trying to do and how I want to portray my message to them.”

Hidden Treasure

What’s the killer app for your new job? Maybe it’s best to ask your new staff, said Jonathan Reichental, CIO of Palo Alto, Calif. “It’s likely that your team is using tools that you don’t know about — sort of the shadow IT tools. Try to find out what those are and embrace them.” Too often, new leaders try to dictate apps and toolsets, when in reality, the best tools for the job are already in place, just under the radar. “We find that the really productive and interesting things are not even spoken about,” Reichental said. “They’re the utilities that people are bringing to work now.”

Always On

Massachusetts CIO Bill Oates says mobile platforms that provide always-on connectivity are crucial for today’s 24/7 operations, especially in widely dispersed government IT operations. Staff members need smartphone or tablet apps that let them stay in constant contact with the team. “You need to be talking to each other all the time,” he said. “If you want to build credibility that you’re going to be responsive to customers, you need to be responsive to each other internally first.”

Hold the Paper

Jacksonville, Fla., CIO Usha Mohan never goes anywhere without her trusty ultrabook. Mohan says she needs one device to carry with her throughout the workday — and a super-thin, lightweight but powerful ultrabook-style laptop fills the bill nicely. The device does the job of a desktop, laptop and tablet. It also cuts down on the hard copy. “I use [Microsoft] OneNote extensively, and I’m able to keep up with all the paperwork with it,” Mohan said. “I don’t like people to give me paper, and I don’t like to carry paper to meetings if I can avoid it.” ¨

Less Is More

Maybe the best app is no app at all. Philadelphia CIO Adel Ebeid says he relies less on technology and more on in-person communication with staff and customers. “This’ll come across as weird from a CIO and a technology lover, but I think there’s an app overkill,” he said. Ebeid prefers to look co-workers in the eye and read their body language. “I’ll walk around quite a bit and talk to folks, especially if I have a gut feeling about what to do and I need to back it up with facts or stories,” he said. “If there’s an app for that, I’d like to know what it is.”