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GovTech360 Data Dive: The Changing Face of Government CIOs

GT editors looked at data on more than 200 state chief information officers to find out average tenure, gender balance and what their resumes have in common. Tune in for our insights on surprises hiding in the data.


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Those who aspire to become a state chief information officer might consider changing their name to Jim. And it wouldn’t hurt if they brought along some experience in government. On this episode of GovTech360, get insights on more than 200 state chief information officers, such as how likely they are to survive an election and the chances of a current state CIO becoming the longest-serving CIO ever at the state level (Hint: It’s getting close). Our experts, including former two-time state CIO and current Center for Digital Government Executive Director Teri Takai, offer their take on what all this data tells us.

 Audio Index (Time Stamps):
  • The state CIO survival rate in the 21st century @ 0:52
  • Where do state CIOs come from? @ 2:05
  • Where do state CIOs go? @ 2:56
  • Average tenure of a state CIO — NASCIO/GT estimates @ 3:32 
  • The state CIO gender gap has worsened since 2002 @ 4:09
  • Takai on what's lost when women's voices are missing @ 6:19
  • Most common first names among state CIOs past and present — safe bet that they are all male names @ 6:55
  • Impact of short CIO tenures on gov tech market (Haisler) @ 7:41
  • The emergence of GT's new data practice @ 9:00
Transcript (Edited for Length and Clarity):
[Opening Billboard]

It's the all-new GovTech360: The Intersection of Government, Technology and the Future.

This time out, State CIOs by the numbers — as their national association prepares to mark 50 years of tech bosses being a thing, caution flags from Teri Takai on missing voices caused by a growing gender gap and Dustin Haisler on short tenures as market disrupters.
[Voice Over: A GovTech360 cover story]


Paul: From the Market Navigator Studios, I'm Paul Taylor with Ben Miller, GovTech data editor. Hello, Ben.

Ben: Hello, Paul. Thanks for having me.

Paul: You bet. You've got the cover story this week and it's looking at state CIOs by the numbers. They used to joke amongst themselves that CIO stood for “career is over.” What does the data say?

Ben: Well, yes and no in terms of being in public sector IT anyway, one of the things that we looked at was the … “survival rates” of state CIOs, which was my own cheeky way of terming basically when a CIO is retained under a new governor.

[Voice over: Thing One]

Ben: What we found is that CIOs survive a governor change about 34% of the time. Overall, this is going back to 1994 looking at about a little over 200 terms that CIOs served at the state level. So it's 30% survivability rate when a new governor comes in from a different party. It's a little bit higher, 39%, when the governor's seat does not change parties. So if you have a governor's seat going from a Republican to a Republican, they're a little bit more likely to keep the old CIO, but not that much. Still, the majority of the time, if you're a state CIO and there's a new governor coming in, that likely means that you're getting replaced.

[Voice over: Thing Two]

State CIOs that come from a governor's campaign, a trendy startup or a big Beltway integrator
get the headlines, but Ben, your data say that the ranks of the CIO remain in large part a product of their raising.

Ben: What we found is that the majority of CIOs at the state level actually come from the public sector — 59% of them, in fact. A lot of these are chief information security officers. Every once in a while, a chief data officer or something like that, they'll be deputy CIOs. Sometimes they'll be CEOs at an agency level, for say a disaster relief agency or something like that. Sometimes they'll be simply a career administrator, somebody who's good at leading departments who gets chosen.

[Voice over: Thing Three]

Paul: So that's about three-quarters public, one-quarter private in terms of the state CIO pipeline, with something of a mirror image on the way out.

Ben: After they are CEOs, they tend to go to the private sector — about 52% go to the private sector after serving, 8% retire and the rest kind of scattered between education, nonprofits and the military. But yeah, the data certainly suggests that the majority of the time, the state CIO job is sort of a path between the public sector and the private.

[Voice over: Thing Four]

Paul: By your numbers, what is the average tenure of the state CIO and how does that compare to NASCIO numbers?

Ben: It looks like NASCIO pegs the average tenure of a state CIO at around 20 months. So closing in on two years, but not quite there. We found that actually being a little bit longer, three years and six months, so three and a half years, which is of course just a little bit under the average term, or at least a constitutional term of state governors. Most of them served for four years at a time.

[Voice over: Thing Five]

Paul: Because it’s 2019, governors rightfully and increasingly point with pride to the gender diversity and inclusivity on their cabinet — but not so much where the state CIO is concerned.  The high water mark for women CIOs in state government was over a decade ago at about 20% — and now that proportion of women has slipped to single digits.

Ben: What we found was that if you look at it all together, the overall percentage of state CEOs who have been women is about 17%. I do want to point out that this isn't, doesn't appear to be all that far off from the private sector in terms of overall numbers, according to a survey or two that I've seen of private-sector CEOs. But yeah, it's an interesting trend to see the numbers go down over time when generally, the workforce has tried to, or at least has talked about, moving toward gender parity. So, you know, if you have 50 state CIOs, then gender parity would be 25 men, 25 women, speaking using the binary, of course.

Paul: We did have the chance to talk to Teri Takai as you were finishing up your research. She now serves as executive director of our sister organization, the Center for Digital Government but, importantly, she was a trailblazing state CIO in both Michigan and California. What did she have to say about what we, the collective we, are missing when women are underrepresented among the ranks and their voices are missing from the conversation?

Ben: Teri Takai talked a lot about the importance of diversity in general and the importance of having diverse points of view based on a person's life experiences and their backgrounds; talking about things like a person's empathy skills, their collaboration skills, their ability to bring people together, and come to a compromise, which is something that's very, very important for the modern CIO.

[SOT Teri Takai]: I think there's also an empathy piece in there, Paul. Interesting as that sounds. You know, we talk a lot about this point around emotional intelligence. But emotional intelligence in many ways, a large component of that is empathy, the ability to listen. And the ability to, through that listening, be able to bring in your ideas but do it in a collaborative way. And I just think that women have many more experiences where they utilize that skill, and, so therefore, sometimes have developed more fully.

[Voice over: Thing Six]

Paul: When everything goes wrong and you can't remember the name of your CIO, what names — when yelled — are most likely to have someone come running?

Ben: That would be “Jim.” According to the data that we collected, there have been 14 CIOs named Jim or James. … If you're shouting into a crowd of people, I think there's a good chance somebody named James responds to Jim, or at least, you know, kind of looks around, you know, “Who's calling me by the name my parents call me?” or something like that. That was the most common name. Among the others, we also had Dave and David were at 10. John and Jack were at eight, William and Bill also at eight, Michael and Mike at seven, and Richard and Rich also at seven.

[Voice over: An Extra Thing]

Paul: To help us get a full 360-degree view of this, our co-host and Chief Innovation Officer
Dustin Haisler has been listening in. Dustin, what does this relatively brief tenure of state CIOs
mean for GovTech startups that do business with state government — or want to?

Dustin: It means that you can't put all of your eggs in one basket or one contact. It's more important than ever for gov tech startups and gov tech companies in general to go deep within agencies and really to build relationships with the multiple points of influence within the buying process. Your champion may be a CIO and they may have led and been a real advocate for your solution. But as this piece indicates, with shorter lengths of tenure, this requires that you get to know the rest of their staff and people that may outlive them within the organization. So I think the key learning here for these companies is you have to go from the top to the bottom and be relevant and be present, with not just the key decision-maker but with their team, for having any type of long-term survivability.

Paul: And all of that without violating the cardinal rule of dancing with the one that “brung you.”


Paul: Before we go, back to Ben for just a minute on GT's emerging data practice — we heard a sample today — and the stories hiding in plain sight. Ben, what’s coming up?

I'm really curious to just kind of develop a better understanding of who makes up state and local government IT. So here we're examining CIOs at the state level. We can also examine CIOs at the county level and at the city level. We can also look at chief data officers, chief information security officers, chief privacy officers and all of these people who have come to take on these really important various areas of government technology. And we actually have, in our next issue, I believe, a piece coming out on chief privacy officers at the state level. Spoiler alert: There are far fewer chief privacy officers than there are chief information officers. But we collected some interesting information on them and we’ll be publishing the numbers on that coming before too long.

Paul: We'll look forward to all of that. And in the meantime, connect with us on Twitter. Ben is @BenArnoldMiller, Dustin is @dustinhaisler — where you can also follow him this month on his tech and policy journey through China as an Eisenhower Fellow. I'm @pwtaylor, and the entire editorial brain trust is @govtechnews.

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[Voice Over]: GovTech360 is produced by Government Technology, a division of e.Republic.