Florida CIO and Tech Agency Making Strides, Experts Say

The Florida Legislature re-authorized the state’s CIO position and technology agency over the summer, but news on the state’s plan to modernize and improve technology has been hard to come by.

by / December 2, 2014

Florida Interim CIO Jason Allison is just a few months into the job, but his poise and team-building skills are already impressing pundits in the state.

Former state CIO David Taylor said he felt Allison did an admirable job managing Florida's new Agency for State Technology (AST) in the wake of Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign. In addition, Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee, believes the new state CIO is doing a good job recruiting key personnel to support the AST and developing a plan to assess Florida’s technology situation.

Williams noted that Allison has named a chief cybersecurity officer, chief operations officer and chief technological architect to his staff. The team is now preparing a report for the Florida Legislature that will serve as a baseline for where the state sits in terms of technology systems. The report is due in February.

“It’ll give us an assessment of where we are and hopefully … there will be some findings so we will know where to invest the taxpayers’ dollars to gain the most efficiencies possible from a technology standpoint,” Williams said.

While Allison has been on board running the AST since this summer, information on the agency’s progress has been scarce. Government Technology reached out two months ago to Allison, seeking comment on the AST’s activities and personnel, but was told by an agency spokesperson that the CIO was unavailable to the media until mid-December.

Taylor wasn’t surprised. He called setting up a new state agency a “complex, difficult project,” and recalled that it took him most of his first six months as Florida CIO to set up the agency’s logistics, hire the right staff and come up with an operational work plan.

The Florida Agency for Enterprise Information Technology (AEIT) was defunded more than two years ago, when Gov. Scott vetoed legislation that would have abolished the AEIT and created a new IT agency. Scott axed the measure over concerns that the new agency’s scope would be too restrictive. As a result, Taylor left the public sector for his current position as a vice president with Software AG USA Inc.

Taylor likes the current Florida AST’s chances for success, however. He noted that the new agency has “significantly more” financial resources than the AEIT had. In addition, Taylor believes the fact that Allison reports only to the governor, as opposed to the entire Florida cabinet, will enable the CIO to have a greater influence within the state’s executive branch.

But neither Taylor nor Williams thinks it’s realistic for people to expect “visible” major changes in Allison’s first year on the job. In fact, Williams thought it may take up to five years. That may seem like a conservative estimate, but Taylor cautioned against an approach that plucks off any “quick wins.”

“In my experience, few of these low-hanging fruit projects have any significant impact on making meaningful change toward modernizing IT, and become a distraction that diverts resources from the most important projects,” Taylor said. “Jason has a good understanding of this, and seems focused on the fundamentals.”

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.