Jun 09 2022

After Pandemic Challenges, CIOs See Enhanced Authorities and Greater Responsibilities

Solving tech challenges on the fly elevated the visibility of tech leaders in the eyes of their fellow officials.

Matt Fraser was CIO of the New York City Police Department until January 2022. When New York City Mayor Eric Adams took office, he promoted Fraser to CTO of the city, also making him head of a refreshed agency called the NYC Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation, formerly the New York City Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications (DoITT).

The previous CTO held more of an advisory role in the city’s administration, but Adams sought a CTO with more authority. Adams wanted a CTO who could do more than report on trends; he wanted an official who could engage city agencies and direct policy.

In New York City’s case, municipal leaders effectively backed an information technology leader to expand the reach of the role within the government. Tech officials also can move into different positions of enhanced authority, becoming effective advocates from outside their previous agencies. These trends have resulted in part from the enhanced visibility of CIOs and their effectiveness as they dealt with emergency situations during the pandemic.

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With his new responsibilities, Fraser stepped into a commissioner’s role with expanded duties. In an executive order, the mayor noted, “The multiple areas of technology and innovation within the city currently report to different Deputy Mayors and are managed in a decentralized manner across various city agencies and entities.”

To centralize these offices, Adams folded the NYC Cyber Command, the Mayor’s Office of Data Analytics and the Mayor’s Office of Information Privacy under the management of the new MOTI, led by Fraser. These offices were not communicating as well as they could have been, so the mayor consolidated them.

Fraser can now truly oversee IT decision-making for the city of New York instead of working with disparate department advancing initiatives within silos. Fraser has the authority to achieve his goals. Previous commissioners who held equivalent ranks to Fraser were often business leaders, not IT leaders. They had managed people, but not technology and related processes.

EXPLORE: New York's initiative to increase broadband access and reliability.

City CIO Experiences Position Leaders for Promotion

Local government CIOs proved their leadership skills responding to a crush of pandemic challenges, and some have found themselves not only with more authority but promoted into other positions. In San Jose, Calif., former CIO Rob Lloyd was promoted to deputy city manager late last year, for example. Lloyd continued to hold both CIO and deputy city manager posts until April, when the city hired Khaled Tawfik as its new CIO.

According to a press release from the city, Tawfik also proved his business chops in his previous role as CIO for Irvine, Calif. There, he strengthened city services and business operations and stood up enterprise systems.

In an interview with StateScoop, Lloyd says city CIOs rose to the occasion when the pandemic forced governments into lockdowns.

“You see the CIO interact and perform in a way that can often go unnoticed, and I believe that organizations really took notice of that and said, ‘wow, look at these CIOs run,’” Lloyd says. “With the last two years, we have more clarity about how much technology enables, how many barriers it collapses, and we have such good relationships if we played our cards well for the organization and the community. There’s an openness and willingness.”

LEARN MORE: Cities are adopting cloud computing and IoT for smarter transportation.

The capacity of CIOs to respond under pressure and implement solutions rapidly truly elevated them in the eyes of their fellow officials, Lloyd says.

In Lloyd’s case, he continues to build upon relationships he forged during his tenure as CIO, working directly with organizations such as the San Jose Department of Transportation and the Norman Y. Mineta San Jose International Airport.

His history of working with other agencies also equips Lloyd to tackle problems beyond IT and infrastructure.

“When you’re a technologist and someone comes to you with some problems, you have some ideas on exactly how to fix it. But if you come with something about homelessness near the airport, you’re going to have interest from the FAA, the CDC, you’re going to have homeless advocates, business advocates, residents — they’re all going to have opinions,” Lloyd says.

This article is part of StateTech’s CITizen blog series. Please join the discussion on Twitter by using the #StateLocalIT hashtag.

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Delmaine Donson/Getty Images

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