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North Carolina CIO Hones in on Collaboration, Training

Though Chris Estes comes from the private sector, he may be ahead of the game.

by / April 18, 2013
North Carolina CIO Chris Estes NC office of CIO

Back in 2008, North Carolina's former CIO Rick Webb urged new CIOs to build a bridge with legislatures in order to get things done. "Find your champions," he suggested in a Public CIO article. "Lots of private-sector CIOs come in and don't understand how [government] works. Once you lose the confidence of the legislature, you never get it back."

And in a recent article in the Triangle BizBlog, former North Carolina CIO Jerry Fralick, who resigned in February 2012, had identical advice for incoming CIO Chris Estes, pictured above. "Work with the Legislature," he said, citing the need for centralization in the state's IT, which could only come with legislative approval.

Though Estes, appointed in January by Gov. Pat McCrory to succeed Jonathan Womer, comes from the private sector, he may be ahead of the game -- so far, he said he has good working relationships with the governor and General Assembly, and has had great access to the pro tem and the Speaker of the House. He also meets regularly with Assembly committees.

"There are a few minor tweaks we've asked for in some of the legislation and they've been flexible in helping us get those through, so we can start to manage IT more effectively."

Estes, who grew up in Florida, earned a B.A. in communications from Mercer University and attended Yale University’s Strategic Leadership Program, says he's using his experience in business transformation to help forward McCrory's agenda of building a more efficient enterprise.

"The governor has envisioned a business transformation for the state that takes us from a distributed siloed business model to a matrixed enterprise model," he said. "For the most part, in previous years the state was run through a distributed [system], and each of the agencies were independent lines of business."

Now, Estes meets with the governor and his executive team weekly for coordination, he said, and with agency CIOs every two weeks. "So we're collaborating and working like never before, and I'm very excited about that."

While communication and coordination are taking a positive turn, Estes noted that training cuts have adversely affected IT and pointed to the fact that the state has IT professionals that support BlackBerrys, "but our customers all now have iPhones, and they get frustrated that our IT professionals can't support their iPhones," he said. "And it's because we haven't trained them; we stopped investing in training people."

But to help make training a priority once again, Estes said the state will draw upon partnerships and contracts that include training credits.

And when it comes to social media, Estes has authored a book and says he thinks it's a good way to reach the public. "Many of our agencies, on their own accord, have started to use social media tools to communicate with citizens, whether it be Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn. We're starting to use LinkedIn more as a state, for recruitment, and identifying resources," he said. "And we have legislators using Facebook and Twitter to communicate with their constituents."

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Wayne Hanson

Wayne E. Hanson served as a writer and editor with e.Republic from 1989 to 2013, having worked for several business units including Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government, Governing, and Digital Communities. Hanson was a juror from 1999 to 2004 with the Stockholm Challenge and Global Junior Challenge competitions in information technology and education.

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