Sep 22 2014

Why CIOs Should Have the Governor’s Ear on All Things IT

Florida’s decision to bring back the state CIO emphasizes the importance of executive support for IT.

Two years ago, the state of Florida jettisoned its central IT agency and CIO during a time of tight budgets when many thought the agency wasn't necessary. In retrospect, the decision proved to be shortsighted when the lack of proper implementation, management and oversight of the state's technology initiatives incurred greater costs to taxpayers.

Florida's hard-learned lessons prompted state lawmakers to pass legislation, which was signed by the governor and went into effect on July 1, to bring back the position of state CIO and re-establish (and fully fund) a centralized agency focused on managing state IT. This is certainly a positive development for the nation's fourth-most-populated state, which spends more than $733 million per year on IT.

But Florida isn't the only state in which central IT oversight has been lacking — the problem is all too common around the United States. Because states need to improve their oversight of IT investments, deliver efficient services to constituents and save taxpayer dollars, Florida's example is a stark reminder that state CIOs should have a seat in the governor's cabinet.

Advancing the Agenda

State government IT can most easily effect change when the person in charge of technology has the governor's support, or at least his or her ear. It's only with executive support that IT can effectively drive enterprisewide approaches to the state's needs.   

Sadly, this hasn't been the trend. In 2012 the governor of the most populated state, California, decided to downgrade the state CIO to a department head. According to the National Association of State CIOs, fewer than half of states have CIOs who report directly to governors. The list of states whose CIOs report to the governor includes those with large populations such as Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, New York and North Carolina.

$60.4 billion

Estimated IT spending by state and local government in 2014

SOURCE: Deltek, "State and Local Industry Analysis, GovWin IQ," July 2014

In the case of Florida, state law­makers spelled out specific requirements for the CIO — namely, that the person be a proven and effective administrator with executive-level experience in the public and private sector. The new CIO should also have experience with IT strategic planning and enterprise project management, particularly for large-scale consolidation projects.

Going further, the Florida legislature established a Technology Advisory Council to make recommendations on matters such as enterprise IT policies, standards, services and architecture. The advisory body will be charged with providing input on how public/private partnerships should be considered in order "to accelerate project delivery and provide a source of new or increased project funding" as specified by the law that created the panel.

In July, Florida named Jason Allison as interim CIO and executive director of the Agency for State Technology.

Emulate and Adapt

While states often wish to be independent and follow different approaches to governing, Florida's renewed approach should serve as a teachable moment and a model for other states seeking to up their game in delivering technology services to citizens. State leaders should embrace IT governance to maximize resources, save taxpayer dollars and deliver more efficient and effective constituent services.