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5 State CIOs Discuss Priorities, Share Recommendations

At NASCIO's annual conference, five CIOs were given five minutes each to revisit their respective priorities and make recommendations based on their own experiences.

AUSTIN, Texas — A handful of issues always seem to be top of mind for CIOs. Cybersecurity, modernization, moving to the cloud — these and more made the list when the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) surveyed members to determine their top priorities for 2017.

At this year’s NASCIO annual conference in Austin, five CIOs each revisited these topics in a series of fast and furious talks that boiled down the issues, pointed to strategies to overcome them and highlighted success stories.


Tennessee has taken a slow, steady approach to IT consolidation, said CIO Mark Bengel. He said they’ve been working toward it since he started with the state in 2004 — and they’re not done yet.

Their method has been to address one issue at a time, most recently this included workstation support and cybersecurity in 2014, and the onging consolidation of staff that began in 2016.

Bengel compared it to the proverbial tortoise and the hare, and explained that neither is the wrong approach.

“Speed will get you there,” he said, “and the quality will keep you employed."

Cloud Migration

Utah CIO Mike Hussey noted that cloud has long been on CIOs’ radar, having made the list of CIO priorities every year since 2010 — and with good reason.

Utah began its cloud journey in 2009 and in 18 months had consolidated 38 data centers and virtualized 80 percent of its server farm. That first year they exceeded expectation and saved an overall $4 million.

Notably, in 2016 Utah spear-headed 2016’s NASPO ValuePoint cloud contract, which put all 50 states in contact with 38 cloud solution providers. This cooperative approach makes it easier for all agencies to get out of the mainframe and into the cloud — even if they haven’t been at it for years.

Budget and Cost Control

Washington state CIO Michael Cockrill emphasized that finances are strategic, and that understanding the dynamics of those strategies are key for success.

While he said Washington’s move in uniting three previously separate organizations under WaTech helped save on resources and create revenue, the CIO pointed to the agile experiment in California’s Child Welfare Service as “the beginning of a sea change.” Such projects decrease the time to value, and an incremental approach to implementation changes the way funds are allocated.

But it’s not just individual organizations that are agile, Cockrill said. “States are agile — we just operate in two-year sprints.”

To that end, he had a few recommendations for vendors trying to get into the government procurement space. Cockrill said vendors need to engage with the state and the beginning of those two years rather than waiting for an RFP to come to them. Vendors need to learn the differences between funding sources, and, perhaps most importantly, sell to the government agency idea that you’ll help get projects funded.

Cockrill will be leaving WaTech for the private sector later this month.

Enterprise IT Governance

When Colorado CTO David McCurdy joined the state’s Office of Information Technology (OIT) three years ago, the agency was in the process of consolidation. The foundations were in place, he said, but the substance wasn’t there yet. The problem? Everything was siloed.

“Silos are a killer to IT,” McCurdy said.

To deal with the challenge of breaking down silos and creating an enterprise approach to IT, the state created the Joint Technology Committee (JTC), an oversight group that assesses any project that OIT or a customer presents, and consults on the project's strategic direction.

This oversight is key, McCurdy explained. Colorado has been approved for hundreds of tech projects, but without a regulating body like JTC, an ally in centralizing IT, it can be difficult to move forward.

Regulation and meeting criteria are essential to Colorado’s IT goals. The agency doesn’t get approval to fund a project until they meet certain milestones. McCurdy calls this the project life cycle methodology, and it’s key to his agency’s progress toward full enterprise governance.

Valuing Diversity

“Our workforce must be a reflection of the citizens and the customers we serve,” said Delaware’s CIO Jim Collins.

Strictly speaking, diversity wasn’t on the 2017 list of top 10 CIO priorities, but Collins made the case that it should be.

“Everyone deserves dignity and respect, and we all bring talent to the work that we do,” he said.

Collins defined a diverse organization as one that embraces and encourages people from all backgrounds. Valuing diversity and inclusion in hiring leads to more engaged employees and better outcomes, and gives organizations a competitive edge.

His advice for making progress? Talk to HR and find out how your agency stacks up against others; ensure that your strategic priorities include diversity and inclusion; and make sure your leadership also reflects that diversity.

IT is a disruptive field, Collins said, and you’ll have to be disruptive to improve diversity.

Lauren Harrison is the managing editor for Government Technology magazine. She has a degree in English from the University of California, Berkeley, and 15 years’ experience in book and magazine publishing.