CIOs in Transition

Veteran CIOs offer advice on how to hit the ground running.

by / March 15, 2015

Change is one of the few constants for public CIOs. That’s especially true in the wake of a November 2014 general election that produced 11 new governors and triggered turnover among state constitutional officers and mayors.

As new administrations settle in, many of them will be choosing new technology teams — and how incoming public CIOs handle those first few months on the job will set the tone for their tenure in government.

“You’re on trial during your first six months and at the end, there’s a verdict,” said Jan Ross, director of IT for the California State Treasurer’s Office. “You need to get things done fast.”

Ross was part of a panel of CIOs that gave transition advice at our annual California Public Sector CIO Academy in Sacramento in February. She and other panelists said public CIOs have a short window to make a lasting impact — and even less time to build a positive reputation.

Move fast, but don’t be reckless, said Joe Panora, who until his December retirement was CIO for the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “Focus on small wins. Look for small, doable projects,” he said. “The worst thing you can do is take on a huge project when you first come in and then fail. The perception will stay with you forever.”

And be deliberate with hiring, he added. “Look at your team as a whole and see the gaps. You can’t afford to make a bad decision. It’s expensive and disruptive.”

One message that came through loud and clear from panelists is the importance of relationships. Public CIOs can’t succeed on their own. To make an impact, they need support from policymakers, agency secretaries, program managers, budget officers and others.

“Relationships are the crux of it all,” said Ross. “It’s the culture that you build.”

You’ll find advice on these and other topics in this Survival Guide issue. We talked to a wide range of seasoned public CIOs about crucial issues for incoming IT leaders. On the following pages, you’ll find tips for connecting with key stakeholders, building productive relationships with legislators and responding to the inevitable emergencies.

You’ll also find in-depth coverage of a subject that all public CIOs need to master: reliable, secure, round-the-clock service delivery. Our 24/7 Government special report looks at how to expand and protect online services, support mobile citizens and public workforces, and ensure business continuity.

If you’re new to government, there’s plenty of advice in this issue of Public CIO to help you hit the ground running. If you’ve been around for a while, we hope you’ll pick up a few tips that add to your success.


Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

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