Like so often happens, Carol Henton’s career trajectory took an unexpected turn after a chance conversation. A onetime director of California’s Department of General Services – the body in charge of the state’s procurement – told her that somebody with expertise was needed to bridge the interests of state governments and vendors on the subject of technology acquisition.
She didn’t know it then, but Henton would become that person.
Now 15 years later, on the precipice of retiring from a career representing the interests of tech companies at state capitols across the United States, Henton is ready to step back from the world of technology trade associations.
Henton has burnished her reputation as a vocal advocate for the IT industry, first for the Information Technology Association of America (ITAA), then TechAmerica, and finally for the IT Alliance for Public Sector (ITAPS). In many respects, she has become an authority on procurement, IT legislation and technology policy in state government.
“I remember one time years ago, I was introduced as 'Carol Henton … she does state procurement.' And I thought, ‘Oh, that is such a label.’ But actually it is a source of great pride to me that I am viewed as an expert in state IT procurement and acquisition. It has been what I’ve devoted the last 15 years to,” Henton said.
Henton said she’s always had a passion for public policy and government, going back to her time in college majoring in political science. She grew up in Michigan, and vividly remembers her summer job there working to manually process tall stacks of paper forms for Medicaid dental claims. It was a formative look at the need for e-government.
She went to work for the federal government for seven years, eventually landing at a regional office for an agency in San Francisco. Henton then transitioned into the private sector, working for a software company, then an electronics firm. She worked during the late '90s in state government affairs for Cisco and eventually arrived at ITAA, where her career in advocacy took flight.
“I take great pride in acknowledging that I have been a voice for so many years advocating for the vendor community. Sometimes people say I speak my mind, but I think the stakeholders appreciate [me] advancing common-sense approaches to IT acquisition,” Henton said.
With that in mind, Henton shared some parting observations about her work during the last decade and a half:
Communication between IT vendors and state officials continues to expand. This has been helped, Henton noted, by states adopting regular positions for state CIOs and chief procurement officers; 15 years ago, she said, those jobs didn’t exist and didn’t happen consistently. “I’m really proud of how we’ve created a forum for ongoing dialog in so many states, particularly California, but also others,” she said.
The State and Local Cloud Commission was prescient. Henton said one of her proudest moments was her involvement in the group of 38 technology companies and a dozen public officials, which three years ago issued a report on recommendations for cloud adoption. The participants concluded that it was only a matter of time before cloud became commonplace in government. “Since 2012, there’s just been a huge uptick in adoption but also awareness in the need for cloud and software as a service,” said Henton.
Strengthening IT governance was a key accomplishment. Henton said states like Florida, North Carolina and Washington recently have taken measures to expand the state CIO’s role. “Numerous states have made progress in granting broader authority to the state CIO, empowering the CIO to oversee all state agencies on IT investment, procurement and management strategy, so that technology can target solutions and be available across the enterprise in state government,” she explained.
More mechanisms are needed for negotiation between vendors and governments. Henton said one of her regrets was not being able to get more states to craft policy allowing contract negotiation between states and vendors, similar to California’s “Section 6611” statute. California has used the provision wisely, she said, and it has contributed to better outcomes.
More states need contract templates specifically for cloud and software as a service. “We’re still stuck in a paradigm where some states think they can tweak around the edges what might be its standard template for IT goods and services, and that it will somehow morph into the cloud environment,” Henton said. Cloud providers need to be able to efficiently offer their services so that it makes sense to scale the solution. Henton said Arizona, Maryland and North Carolina are some of the states trying to update their terms and conditions for cloud computing.
There’s increasing focus on evaluating performance of IT vendors.
California is perhaps the farthest along, having announced earlier this month
the five key performance indicators (KPIs) it will measure during a pilot in 2016. The state’s Department of Technology plans to eventually roll out a vendor performance evaluation system for all large IT projects. Other states likely will follow California’s lead, Henton said. “I think it’s important that such efforts need to be fair to both the state and the IT vendor by considering factors such as whether a state’s action contributed to nonperformance, cost overruns and delayed project implementation,” said Henton.