Fewer than a dozen state CIOs currently come from the private sector and only a handful of sitting state CIOs have survived a change in governor. But the number of the rarest type of state CIO is rather surprising.
With 36 states holding gubernatorial elections in November, odds are good that a number of current state CIOs will not be in place a year after the races, creating new opportunities for IT professionals in the public sector as well as the private sector.
But when a state CIO opening exists, who is most likely to fill it? And will they be able to endure an eventual change in governors, and where will they go after their tenure is up?
Here are some numbers to chew on based on current state CIOs who came from the private sector, excluding non-profits and the educational sector, as well as current state CIOs who survived a governor transition and the year they were named CIO. And, as it turns out, few current and former state CIOs have gone from a state CIO post to the same position at another state.
Current state CIO openings have an interesting landscape. Below is a breakout based on Government Technology research.
15 states have governors who are termed out or have no plans to run in November:
4 states have interim or acting state CIOs, even though their governor plans to run in November:
4 states have interim or acting state CIOs, even though their governor is not running until the 2020 or 2021 elections:
With a number of state CIO positions expected to open up following the November elections, chances are those positions will be filled by public employees if the current situation continues. As a number of government employees know, state CIOs tend to earn one-third less than their counterparts in the private sector, tempering the interest of private IT professionals going into the public sector.
Additionally, the tenure of state CIOs tends to be shorter than private-sector CIOs. A state CIO stint lasts an average of 32.1 months, or less than three years, according to Governing*. But the tenure of a private-sector CIO runs 4.3 years, according to a report from executive recruiting firm Korn Ferry.
Nonetheless, nearly a dozen IT professionals from the private sector moved over to the public sector as a state CIO.
“For me, it was a lifestyle thing. I was in the private sector for 21 years … I was always drawn to the mission to help citizens and less fortunate people and make for a more effective governance,” said Mark Raymond, Connecticut state CIO.
Previously Raymond worked for IT consulting giant Accenture working with public-sector clients. His role with Accenture involved a lot of travel. He wanted to spend more time with his family and see if in a state CIO role he could also effect more change. And although he was aware that public-sector jobs pay less for a comparable position, he noted fiscal benefits cannot be the main thing a person considers when thinking about taking a state CIO position.
He also added that private-sector CIOs are not immune to the kinds of leadership shake-ups that happen in statehouses. Most private-sector CIOs report to the CEO or chief financial officer and any leadership change may also result in a CIO change.
The greatest difference between serving as a state CIO versus a private-sector CIO, he said, is that state governments tend to pass biennial budgets. So a state CIO inherits a predecessor’s budget and cannot call the shots with their own IT spending possibly as late as their second year.
Although roughly one-fifth of state CIOs come from the private sector, the percentage has been much higher in the past, Doug Robinson, executive director of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO), said. After the 2010 gubernatorial elections, nearly half of the newly appointed CIOs came from the private sector, 44 percent, and 56 percent from the public sector.
“The current situation is unusual,” says Robinson.
He speculated that a number of premature state CIO departures earlier this year left a number of states scrambling for a replacement and the easiest route would be to promote someone within the state IT department. Given the potential for a high turnover rate once a new governor is elected, someone from the private sector may think twice before signing aboard.
“If a CIO leaves a year or less before the governor changes term, it can be a challenge to find a replacement,” he said.
Only seven of the current state CIOs have survived a change in governors. In some cases, it involved a CIO who was appointed by and reported to the governor, such as in the case of Delaware CIO Jim Collins. In other cases the CIO was hired and reported to a cabinet official or a top executive with the department of administration, similar to Louisiana CIO Dickie Howze.
“CIOs are less likely to get changed around if they don’t report to the governor,” observed Collins, who noted he was aware of this when named CIO and a cabinet secretary to Gov. John Carney, following his two-year tenure with Gov. Jack Markell.
In citing potential reasons for his ability to retain his position under a new administration, Collins said he still had the passion for the job, flexibility to adapt to the issues that are important to the new governor, and an ability to be a good collaborator with other agency departments. He also liked Carney’s plans for the state, supported him in the election and made it known to key players he would be interested in retaining his post under Carney.
From a governor’s perspective, it could be viewed as a risk to keep someone in their current CIO role, Collins surmised.
“People don’t want to change, so there is a risk to the governor that they want to keep things as they had been and that would hurt the new governor’s vision,” Collins added.
For Louisiana’s Howze, he reports to the assistant commissioner for the state’s division of administration and is not a cabinet member. Under the previous administration, Howze had started a massive IT consolidation project that was in its first 18 months when the new governor, John Bel Edwards, came in in 2016.
“In the first year of the consolidation, it had saved the state $75 million and we were into the second year of a complicated consolidation project that will take several years,” Howze said.
In citing his success in retaining his CIO post, Howze says it’s important to have proof of financial success with IT projects, develop and execute a consolidation plan and bring some quick wins to the table.
When the new governor came on board, he listened to all the agencies and heard their complaints regarding the changes they would need to make as a result of the consolidation efforts, Howze recalled. But in the end, the governor listened to Howze and his team and the savings that could be achieved with the project and retained the seasoned IT executive.
It’s not an easy task to hold onto the state CIO role under a change of administration, especially if the political party changes, says NASCIO’s Robinson.
“The governor wants to pick their own person to be part of their leadership team,” Robinson said.
State CIOs who give up their post and then later join another state as CIO are extremely rare. Only three current and former state CIOs have achieved this feat, says Robinson.
Teri Takai moved from the Michigan CIO post to a similar role in California, before taking a leap to the U.S. Department of Defense as CIO. Takai is currently the executive director for the Center for Digital Government, which is also owned by the same parent company as Government Technology. Alex Pettit, former Oklahoma CIO, went on to become Oregon CIO, though he’s now leaving the post. Robert von Wolffradt has not only served as CIO for both the states of Wyoming and Iowa, but he has also survived a governor transition as Iowa’s CIO.
“CIOs from one state may not be interested in going to another state. Instead, if they are no longer state CIO, they may want to go to another local government as CIO,” Robinson says.
Jay Bhatti, co-founder and chief technology officer for BrandProject, had this perspective as a member of the 2017 transition team for New Jersey’s then Governor-Elect Phil Murphy.
“Where is the police chief from New York City going to go after leaving New York? He would probably go to another city as a police chief, since there aren’t much options. But a former state CIO can easily go to the private sector and for more pay,” Bhatti says, in regards to the small number of state CIOs who have jumped to another state.
*Governing is part of e.Republic, Government Technology’s parent company.
Editor's note: This story was corrected to reflect the number of CIOs who have served under multiple governors. Data is current as of June 4, 2018.