Missouri has hired private-sector executive Mike Cheles as its new CIO, and longtime acting CIO Rich Kliethermes will transition to acting deputy director of its IT Services Division.
Missouri’s longtime acting CIO will step aside to take a lower role in the state IT department as a new tech leader arrives from the private sector, officials in the Office of Administration (OA) said on Oct. 17.
Acting CIO Rich Kliethermes, who has held that title since November 2015 but whose IT work history in OA spans 20 years, will make way for incoming CIO Mike Cheles (pictured at left), who was most recently director of quality and enterprise projects at St. Louis-based health-care company Centene Corp. Cheles’ first day as Missouri CIO, leader of the OA IT Services Division (ITSD) and of nearly 1,000 IT professionals supporting 14 executive departments and three elected officials, will be Oct. 22.
His varied resume includes more than two years as CIO at instrument maker Gibson Brands Inc.; as director of IT at UnitedHealth Technologies; and as vice president of IT and CIO at SunEdison when it was known as MEMC Electronic Materials, according to LinkedIn. He was an adjunct professor of operations management at Washington University in St. Louis, prior to joining Centene, and this is his first government position. In an interview with Government Technology, Cheles said he met and connected early in the onboarding process with Chief Operating Officer Drew Erdmann during a discussion of how government might raise revenue by increasing its productivity.
“That’s definitely what I would like to do with the government to, No. 1, give back, but No. 2, run it more efficiently because that’s a lot of my tax dollars out there too. Maybe the way decisions are made are a little bit different and there’s a larger number of stakeholders and things in the government than typically you’d find on the commercial side. But the nuts and bolts about what I did in my past and what’s needed at the state kind of transcend each other,” Cheles said.
Among his early priorities, the incoming CIO said he’s eager to understand the state’s existing application portfolio ahead of plans to implement a modern enterprise resource planning system. He also plans to get to know and hear from existing staffers and develop an overall IT strategy during the next roughly six months. Automating older interfaces such as call centers, Cheles said, may be one way to improve residents’ experience with the state while simultaneously reducing cost.
“There are clearly ways we can automate to interface with the citizens of Missouri, make it easier for them to transact and get information with the state, as well as for us to be able to do it more effectively. I do see us interacting in a more advanced and updated way with the citizens of Missouri than we’re doing right now,” Cheles said.
The COO noted the significance of Cheles’ role in fine-tuning the partnership between IT and state agencies. For the first time, Erdmann said, the CIO position has been elevated to a “co-equal,” and Cheles will be “a member of the cabinet when we convene the cabinet to discuss management issues.”
In a somewhat uncommon move, Kliethermes will remain at the state, transitioning as of Oct. 22 to become acting deputy director at ITSD. The C-level technologist has served state IT since 1998, beginning as an application developer/supervisor for OA/ITSD, according to LinkedIn. His move is just the latest high-level shift in state IT following the June resignation of Gov. Eric Greitens and elevation of Lt. Gov. Michael Parson to governor through 2020. Michael Roling, Missouri’s chief information security officer since 2009, headed to the private sector Sept. 28, to join a private software company.
Kliethermes’ move also marks the complete transition of the Team Missouri leadership — him, Roling and then-Deputy CIO Steve Siegler — collectively recognized by GT as one of the Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers of 2017. The group was lauded for its commitment to improving tech and cybersecurity, evidenced in 2016 when Missouri received an A grade in the Center for Digital Government’s* 2016 Digital States Survey. The state repeated the feat in the 2018 Digital States Survey, earning an A in part for an enterprisewide IT modernization that included a new online portal to ease the Medicaid eligibility process and an overhaul of unemployment insurance systems. The effort was centered on governance and guided by a new state IT governance council convened this year for the first time.
Erdmann called Cheles’ hiring “critically important, to have a forward-thinking and forward-leaning, experienced technology and digital expert to come to lead us in the 21st century. He praised the previous work of state staffers but said the state is at an inflection point in the process of making government better for citizens. For too long, the COO said, the state has neglected the basic mechanics of how it manages resources to serve residents and create a good employee experience.
“We are going really back to [basic] management for efficiency, effectiveness and better customer service. And obviously, technology is at the center of that,” Erdmann said, emphasizing that focus has been made clear by the governor, whose strategic priorities of workforce development and infrastructure also have a clear intersection with technology and data analytics.
Missouri, Erdmann said, needs to make more and better use of its data to make fact-based decisions on assisting citizens — but promoting and incentivizing their re-entry into the workforce.
“[It's] critically important to have a forward-thinking and forward-leaning, experienced technology and digital expert to come to lead us in the 21st century," he said.
Under Cheles’ leadership, the state also needs to do more with data, Erdmann said, employing it more effectively to combat waste, fraud and abuse; to inform policy design and implementation; and to enhance transparency and thereby, performance. He highlighted the Oct. 2 launch of Missouri Budget Explorer, which offers more comprehensive, detailed information on the state budget.
“In a few months, we’re going to be putting on that all the performance measures from across state government,” Erdmann said, referring to the new website.
Sarah Steelman, commissioner of OA, praised Kliethermes’ work and "dedication" but said she thinks Cheles can “take a look at the big picture in ITSD” to find new and different ways of improving service delivery.
“How do we make the trade-off Drew was referring to? How do we make our limited resources stretch as far as we can and still deliver the services that we need to, effectively, efficiently and on time? And so, all of those go together in a strategic format that I believe Mike has had the experience in the private sector to bring those assets to the public sector,” Steelman said.
*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.