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Ohio's Stu Davis Departs After Nearly 8 Years as CIO

One of the nation’s longest-serving state CIOs, Davis leaves behind a legacy of productive IT stewardship during a time of major technological change.

Ohio CIO Stu Davis has submitted his resignation, and his last day with the state will be Friday, Sept. 7.

Davis, who is the second longest-serving state CIO in the country, has held the top tech position in Ohio since 2011, when he was appointed to it soon after Gov. John Kasich took office. Davis said he plans to leave state service after spending the past 21 years working for Ohio, taking at least a month off to assess his next move. Davis is among the most productive and accomplished state CIOs in the country, and he was one of the first to hold the position when it became widespread within state governments back in the late ’00s and early ’10s.

Davis’ accomplishments in the role are many, ranging from small IT fixes to a massive IT optimization that emphasizes efficiency and stands to save the state money in the long term. When Davis and his team began work, Ohio had 26 cabinet agencies with over 70 boards and commissions, spending more than $930 million annually on IT, approximately 80 percent of which went to infrastructure and operations.

Since then, the state has seen over $162 million of documented reductions to spending related to IT infrastructure, according to a letter from Robert Blair, director of Ohio’s Department of Administrative Services, accepting Davis’ resignation. Davis also estimates this will have a projected savings that exceeds $500 million. Those reductions stem from a wide range of moves, including the creation of a single email platform for all agencies, attrition of IT infrastructure positions and reducing the state’s data centers from 32 to four.

Davis said he is perhaps proudest of the evolution of the Ohio Tech Board that has taken place during his tenure. The Ohio Tech Board meets weekly, and its membership consists of Davis, other tech executives, various agency CIOs and line of business leads from throughout the state. Davis recalls the board’s earliest meetings, and how far the board has come in that time.

“That was probably one of the coolest things for me — to watch the Tech Board go from this agency-specific look, very cautious on what we were talking about and doing, to now driving enterprise solutions,” he said. “To watch this group now be recognized as the IT leadership of the state has been really rewarding for me.”

Other accomplishments during Davis’ tenure include centralizing cybersecurity functions, creating essential enterprise services and launching a statewide analytics program that in recent years has begun to yield results aimed at reducing the state’s infant mortality rate and addressing the state’s ongoing opioid crisis. Ohio has also migrated to public cloud-based services, among many other modernization efforts that have taken place in Davis’ time.

In terms of advice for the next Ohio CIO, Davis said he will stress the importance of being an early-riser. Davis himself arrives to work each day at 4:30 a.m., which gives him time to reflect and contemplate big picture goals before other public servants arrive with demands for his time. He said quiet time to reflect on what’s working and apply it to big picture goals is vital.

“It really gives me a chance to reflect and think about the events of the day, to think about where we want to be in three years,” Davis said. “The CIO has a tendency — if they’re not careful — to get dragged into the operational weeds, and you need to keep your head up, you need to have someone else focusing on the day-to-day stuff so that you can think about the big things coming, like autonomous vehicles, like how we’re using drones in the state of Ohio, how we’re using technology to support autistic kids. The innovation and the innovative things we do are only because you have the ability to look forward.”

Davis’ departure comes just months before the impending end of term-limited Gov. Kasich’s tenure as the top executive in the state. CIOs leaving in advance of a departing governor is a normal trend that takes hold across the country during active election years. This year, 36 gubernatorial elections are underway in the United States. In the gov tech world, it is rare for an incumbent CIO to retain the position when a new governor takes office, even if that governor is from the same political party.

Davis, for his part, said he is looking forward to his next role, whatever that may be.

“I’ve got 21-and-a-half years in state service,” Davis said. “It’s been a road, it’s been a journey, it’s been a heck of a ride. It’s time for me to take a step back and decompress. I’ve been telling people that the next time they see me, I’ll be two inches taller.”

Associate editor for Government Technology magazine.