Public CIOs Know It’s All About Solutions

CIOs seek to evolve their agencies in the wake of coming retirements and changing technology.

by / September 1, 2015

One challenge facing public CIOs is how to realign internal IT departments to become better partners with the business agencies they support.  

Certainly core systems must keep running and infrastructure needs to be solid, whether it’s in the cloud or on premises. But the Holy Grail for public CIOs and their departments is the ability to apply technology to key government programs and processes in ways that make them more efficient, customer-friendly and effective.

I just spent a few days in St. Paul for e.Republic’s Minnesota Digital Government Summit, and I asked several public CIOs how their organizations will evolve over the next few years. Becoming more solution-centric was a common theme.

Minnesota CIO Tom Baden, who’s profiled in this month’s Meet the Class of 2015 feature, faces a double-edged sword. He’s rapidly losing experienced staff to retirement — a trend that keeps him awake at night — yet the turnover offers a chance to remake his workforce to some extent.

“I sign off on retirement papers just about every week. These are the kind of people who know really complex government programs plus technology,” Baden said. “It’s also kind of a once-in-a-generation opportunity as well.”

He’s recruiting more employees who lack traditional tech backgrounds, and they’re coming from new spaces like community hackathons or agency business units. Instead of pure technical chops, they bring a passion for the public-sector mission and an ability to think in a different way. Growing adoption of hosted development platforms makes it possible for them to launch solutions without writing code and configuring servers.

Minneapolis CIO Otto Doll said tech support will be a path to align his organization closer to business customers. The city, which has outsourced nearly all of its IT since 2003, will change outsourcing providers in December. Part of that shift involves pulling help desk and desk-side support functions back in-house.  

Doll said the move will save money, but more importantly it’ll help the city IT department do less order-taking and more consulting. Launching city-run help desk and desk-side support units is a first step in improving the department’s ability to suggest solutions based on customers’ business needs, he said. “That is requiring us to get closer to our clients than we’ve ever been before. We’re trying to become much more engaging with the departments.”

That’s a move more public CIOs are trying to make.  


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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