Pettit Grasps Structural Challenges in Oregon

No longer CIO of Oklahoma, incoming Oregon state CIO Alex Pettit takes on Oregon's unusual organizational structure.

by / February 5, 2014
Oregon CIO Alex Pettit David McNeese

Former Oklahoma CIO Alex Pettit served his last day on Jan. 3 and packed his bags for Oregon, where he is now getting a feel for the state’s unusual policy structure as the new Oregon state CIO. Pettit has been replaced in Oklahoma by James “Bo” Reese, deputy administrator of operations at the Oklahoma State and Education Employees Group Insurance Board. Reese’s position could become permanent, but with Gov. Mary Fallin up for re-election this year, who Pettit’s permanent replacement will be remains unknown.

In Oklahoma, Pettit led a statewide IT consolidation initiative that centralized IT resources from nearly 80 different data centers as well as an ambitious plan to share services with local governments. When he left, the state was approaching 80 percent IT consolidation, Pettit said, and his successor’s biggest mission will be to complete that work. “[After that], the single greatest challenge in Oklahoma will be the shift in focus from optimizing services to partnering with agencies to support their specific agency needs,” he said.

In Oregon, Pettit follows former CIO Dugan Petty, now a senior fellow at the Center for Digital Government (owned by e.Republic, also the parent company of Government Technology). Petty saw Oregon’s organizational structure transform into something similar to the federal government, where policy and service delivery functions are separated.

In his first couple weeks as state CIO, Pettit says he’s been getting a feel for the way Oregon does things, and defining in specific terms what that means for IT operations. The usual model where one agency is responsible to consult, design, build and run an implementation is embedded in how IT usually works, Pettit said, so they need to establish how everything is going to work under this model in order to be successful.

“So my job is to help define what that system boundary is and what that really means that we’re responsible for,” he said. Just as iterative processes like agile software development are becoming more popular, Oregon’s structure presents a diametric barrier to that type of thinking in IT. Petty began tackling that problem during his tenure, Pettit said, and now it’s his job to complete that work.

Pettit doesn’t have it completely figured out yet, he said, but expects that the solution will be different depending on the size and nature of the agency in question. “For small agencies, we’re going to have to do more of the design and build with them because they just don’t have the manpower and the expertise to do it,” he said. “For very, very large agencies … they’ll probably do much of their own design and build and our role will be to review and make sure that it’s complete and that it conforms to policies and rules we’ve put together. That’s really a big challenge for us.”

Pettit defined his own leadership style as not so much a leader, but a coach. “I’ve always considered myself helping people to get to a higher level of performance themselves rather than a command and control kind of leader,” he said. “I like to bring out people who are smarter than me."

Colin Wood former staff writer

Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.

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