IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

7 Strategies of the Successful State CIO (Contributed)

With limited time, expanding technological demands and a litany of constraints, state CIOs have to focus on the essentials to ensure success in their job and in meeting the needs of their citizens.

From 1997 to 2005, I had the pleasure of serving as the state of Connecticut’s first CIO, a role which led to my involvement with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). This included a term as president in the tumultuous 9/11 timeframe. Back then, the pace of change was accelerating but had nowhere near the velocity it has today: In 1995, just 1.7 percent of the world’s population was connected to the Internet. Now, more than 55 percent of the global population is connected to the Internet, and 95 percent of Americans own a smartphone.

In this environment, 21st-century state CIOs must deliver smart, efficient, effective government with integrity. As changemakers and visionaries, they are expected to lead rather than manage, to transform as well as reform, all while facing unprecedented socio-economic challenges and digital disruption. 

From my experience as state CIO, leading NASCIO and now engaging with state CIOs on a daily basis, I’ve seen seven characteristics common to the most successful state CIOs — and when I say successful, I mean those leaders that have achieved what they set out to do, within budget and in the timescale they committed to, having made a real difference to the citizens they serve and to their future. The next generation of new CIOs must demonstrate these abilities if they are to succeed in this hugely important role:
  1. A commitment to delivering a customer-centric citizen experience: delivering an improved citizen experience drives every decision the successful CIO makes. This includes providing citizens with simpler, faster access to information and government services, to breaking down silos and leading government agencies in being connected and approachable. Decisions made by the state CIO also impact citizens’ mobility within a state. As urban populations rise, more services and systems are automated to keep towns moving. Now, connected communities and their infrastructure lie within the realms of the CIO.
  2. Demonstrating excellence in brokering and relationship building: The 2018 NASCIO and Grant Thornton’s study found that the role of CIO as communicator and relationship manager ranked highest in terms of successful traits. State CIOs have to broker shared services, connect agencies and build relationships with stakeholders, citizens, government agencies, state leaders, vendors and partners. NASCIO’s report, “State CIO as Broker,” notes that, “in today’s marketplace for IT services, the CIO broker functions as an intermediary who arranges, organizes and orchestrates service fulfilment between many different IT service providers.” Building strong, collaborative partnerships enables successful brokering, which unlocks value.  
  3. Capable of swiftly delivering change and gaining buy-in: Every leader must navigate an uncharted path. The state CIO must do this under scrutiny from employees, government agencies, citizens and stakeholders. He or she also must secure their buy-in for change to be a success. State CIOs evangelize change. They have to inform, educate, communicate and reinforce the changes they plan to deliver. Successful leaders take these actions with authenticity and credibility, with integrity, honesty and humility, and generate respect and buy-in as they do so. 
  4. Understanding the transformational role of data management and analytics: State CIOs are guardians of data. At a citizen level, they must take measures to collect and protect personal data in a robust and visible way. The data should be secure but accessible to the right functions, not held in silos, and connected across multiple agencies to deliver a streamlined, consistent citizen experience. The forward-thinking state CIO extracts insights and forecasts from data, using it to map, visualize and plan services. They must leverage this data and use it to deliver smart, effective solutions and accelerate responses. 
  5. Demonstrating precision in risk management: Hoping for the best but preparing for the worst is a sensible precautionary approach shared by today’s state CIOs as they tackle a wide range of threats, from hurricanes, wildfires, cyberattacks and data breaches to opioid addiction and potential Medicaid fraud and abuse. Using data and technology to deliver robust risk management plays a crucial part in the effectiveness of the state CIO’s role. For example, access to precise geographic data on areas prone to flooding, earthquake and wildfires enables state CIOs to pinpoint risk with accuracy. Access to relevant crime data enables effective resource allocation. This data facilitates effective contingency planning, securing citizen safety and ensuring access to essential systems is maintained in the event of a hazard.
  6. A commitment to transparency: The days of all decision-making being carried out behind closed doors are thankfully almost behind us, and state officials are now far better at consulting and communicating with the public on relevant policies and processes. Initiatives and regulations have been made to improve open access to data, so citizens can access and understand information relevant to them. SaaS-based software is improving visibility into issues such as the maintenance and conditions of highways. States which have implemented advanced asset management software, for example, keep track of reported issues on their infrastructure in real time and respond quickly. 
  7. Possessing an ability to create and share a vision for the future: The successful state CIO must be visionaries. Their role is of a custodian, and although the new generation of state CIOs is less likely to be long-term (the average tenancy of a CIO is just 24 months or less), the decisions they make now will certainly impact the future of their communities. The balance between being pragmatic, fixing broken processes and technologies, yet still maintaining a future vision is not easy, but the state CIO must create a road map for new and emerging technologies. At the operational level, this could mean preparing for an agile workforce, ensuring a mobile-first approach for citizens, considering SaaS, AI and machine learning, and understanding the benefits of application programming interfaces (APIs) in delivering services to connected communities. At a more visionary level, according to NASCIO’s 2017 State CIO Survey, “state leaders aspire to have seamless citizen transactions, increase engagements, provide mobile services, establish common online identities, and enable crowdsourcing and digital assistants to help navigate services.”

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.