Experts discuss strategies for agency CIOs to interact more successfully with politicians on technology projects.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – Legislators and state agency CIOs need to communicate earlier and more often to ensure technology project success, according to a panel of experts at the California Public Sector CIO Academy on February 26.
The four-person group – composed of current and former California legislative staff members – emphasized that it's not enough for an agency to ask state lawmakers for funding and file status reports. CIOs and project managers need to regularly interact with legislative personnel and policy analysts so that lawmakers are more familiar with the nuances of projects, instead of judging them on statistics alone.
But it's not that easy. CIOs and IT managers often aren't sure who to reach out to at the capital and even if they do, the issues may be too complex and technical to be understood properly.
Erika Li, former senior fiscal policy analyst for the California Legislative Analyst's Office, said she believes part of the problem is that many legislators only focus on technology when there's a problem. Christian Griffith, chief consultant of the California Assembly Budget Committee, agreed and noted that technology projects often compete with other political issues for legislators' time. And because tech is often difficult to explain, it tends to get lost in the shuffle.
Jim Sweeney, principal consultant, California Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes, felt the California Legislature doesn't want to get overly involved in the day-to-day affairs of IT, but has a responsibility to appropriately oversee how money they appropriated to projects is being used. But he believes the traditional methods of standardized reports are just not effective and encouraged CIOs to change the way they interact with public officials.
The panel – moderated by Adam Dondro, assistant director, Horizontal Integration, of the California Department of Social Services – identified five ways to better connect technology leaders with state officials:
In addition to knowing the appropriate legislative staff members to contact, the panel said timing was critical when starting to develop relationships.
“Reach out early and informally to legislative staff in the quiet times at the capital – spring and fall,” Griffith said.