What It Takes to Succeed as a State CIO (Contributed)

Brokering, transforming and communicating are the skills needed to be today’s state IT chief.

by / October 23, 2018

Elections are always consequential for state chief information officers (CIOs), but this election cycle will be particularly impactful for the state CIO community. It is possible that between January 2018 and January of next year, more than 30 state CIOs will turn over. The current state CIO cohort has more than 150 years of combined experience in the role — a number that is likely to decrease dramatically next year. This will provide both challenges and opportunities to the new generation of state CIOs.

The most recent State CIO Survey conducted by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), Grant Thornton LLP and CompTIA explores the critical success factors for the state CIO. We set out to use this year’s survey as a channel for the current cadre of state CIOs to offer advice to a new generation of technology leaders who may soon be taking office. Some key themes that emerged from this year’s survey were the continued evolution of the role of the state CIO, the diversity of skills needed to succeed in that role, and the disruption that digital technologies are continuing to impose on the state technology landscape.

Gone are the days when state CIOs were primarily focused on IT infrastructure. Since 2010, our survey has shown a consistent trend of CIOs moving toward operating as a business manager or broker of services as opposed to an owner and operator of assets. States are continuing to examine how a CIO should operate, and the trends show that the dominant business model across state government is one of a CIO organization operating as a shared services broker that leverages as-a-service models to deliver on their service portfolio. Additionally, the role of state CIO is increasingly one of driving digital transformation across the state. This places different demands on the CIO and his or her staff.

Similar to the changes in the role and expectations for the state CIO, the leadership qualities and personality characteristics of the successful state CIO are also evolving. When asked, today’s state CIOs consistently ranked communication, relationship-building and strategic thinking as the most critical leadership traits for a successful CIO. In contrast, technology expertise came in at No. 9.

When we asked state CIOs for lessons learned that could be shared with incoming CIOs, a consistent picture emerged. Vital advice that many CIOs conveyed was the need to build strong relationships with key stakeholders at the governor’s office, agency and legislative level, and to develop a keen understanding of the budget process and relationships with the budget office. Once this is accomplished, nurturing enterprise thinking that is focused on generating value for the business will set the foundation for success. A focus on enterprise vision and strategy, security and risk management, and agency customer service and relationship management were seen as the most critical dimensions to making a difference.

These insights will undoubtedly be valuable to new state CIOs as they take up office. However, they should also be valuable to incoming gubernatorial administrations who are seeking the right technology leader for their states. By learning from the collective wisdom of the current state CIO community, they can make better choices when filling a position that is increasingly critical to the implementation of administration policy and innovation.

Graeme Finley

Mr. Finley is a Principal with Grant Thornton Public Sector.