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Careful Staffing Can Bring Fresh Perspectives to Gov Tech

Asked how she would build a brand-new government IT office, veteran public CIO Teri Takai cited appointing the right people to leadership positions as the way to think outside the box and see success.

Teri Takai
Suppose you had a clean slate to work with. How would government IT look different? How could it be improved upon? We asked state and local government technology leaders just that question.

It’s more than just a thought exercise. Their clean-slate wish lists help to paint a picture of what might be possible. From governance structures to funding mechanisms to hiring schemes, they describe a range of creative changes that could help to put IT on a stronger footing going forward.

To see all responses, click here.

If you could start a government IT shop completely from scratch, what key steps would you take? What would you change?

The first thing I would do is make sure that I was hiring a few really key positions. I would hire a chief operating officer who could take responsibility for the day-to-day operations. I would hire a chief information security officer who had experience in technology and also in how you work with an organization to ensure that staff learn and are trained.

I would hire a chief technology officer, an individual who is not only well-versed in cybersecurity but also well-versed in the operational side of technology. Then I would hire a combination project management/business relationship person, someone who could work with my customers to understand the overall business, understand what the needs are.

There are more: You need a very good legislative person, because all your money comes through the legislature. I would hire a prior legislative staffer for that. Then I would hire a public information officer, because you have to be able to communicate your message.

Then you take all those people and you ask them: How do all these processes impact the citizen? You bring everyone together to start right off working on solutions that impact the citizen, with your team thinking about how we can deliver technologies that actually support groups working together.

Why would this approach be better than the current norms?

Most government IT shops have individuals who have grown up in the organization who may not have all of the requisite skills, who are very used to doing things “the way that government does things.” When you start from scratch, it gives you a chance to bring in a team that has a different perspective.

You’d be able to bring in people who are interested in change and willing to take on the organizational and cultural implications of change. You could hire individuals who are visionaries, and who are also implementers — individuals who are focused on how the technology can make a difference to governance.

What challenges would this new model encounter, and how could these be overcome? What would it take to make this real?

The challenge in reality is that you don’t get a clean slate, you don’t get to build your team from scratch. You always are starting with some kind of legacy. There’s already an organization in place, and you have to respect the knowledge that that organization has. Often the individuals that you have in the organization are very vested in the current model.

What you can do is try to supplement that organization, to grow into a new model.

You need to evaluate your team and understand what their individual strengths are, and put them in positions that leverage those strengths, while also giving them an opportunity to do other things. If you have individuals who are great team builders, and they already have a team that’s very loyal to them, you’ll challenge them to take on incremental change — but mentor them in that particular area.

From there, you make sure that you have a strategy and vision. What’s the end game, where do they want to be? Then you let each person say what it will take to get there. You will get some very valuable input — it tells you the areas that you need to work on.

Teri Takai has served as CIO of Michigan, California and the Department of Defense, and has also spent time in private industry.
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