What does it take to succeed as a state CIO?
February 21, 2022
February 21, 2022
This year, 36 states will hold gubernatorial elections. With those elections comes significant change in state governments — including transitions in IT leadership. According to NASCIO, the average tenure of State CIOs is 31.1 months.
With the expected changes in state leadership and the volatility in tenure, how can State CIOs navigate these transitions while maximizing their impact? That’s a question I recently discussed with Rick Webb, a fellow former state CIO.
During my more than 12 years with the Texas Department of Information Resources, I spent five as State of Texas Chief Information Officer and Deputy Executive Director. Rick is former CIO for the State of North Carolina and former leader of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Corporate Leadership Council. These days, he helps state IT leaders as part of Accenture’s Government Senior Advisory Program.
Here are some of the key points from our conversation.
Kimbriel: It's been a couple of years since I’ve walked in a state CIO’s shoes and for you, Rick, it’s been many more. But we both regularly engage in dialog and debate with our former peers. What do you see as the biggest changes since you were serving in North Carolina?
Webb: I think some challenges have stayed the same — things like budget constraints and the short window of time any state CIO has to make an impact. But there are some newer complexities in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, CIOs continue to deal with the need to respond quickly, helping agencies to buy and implement technology to address challenges brought on by the pandemic. Another big change is the political environment, which has become even more complex.
Kimbriel: I agree. I would add that more than ever, state CIOs need to focus on finding ways to be successful in their short tenures. My advice is not to start swinging for the fence. Instead, get some players on the bases — in other words, make improvements that will be sustainable in the long run.
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[Rather than] swinging for the fence, get some players on the bases — in other words, make improvements that will be sustainable in the long run. Partnerships are pivotal to making that happen.
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Webb: I would also encourage new CIOs to find champions in government leadership, whether in the Administration or legislative allies, to be advocates for your program. These champions are critical to a CIO’s success. State CIOs also need partnerships with private-sector organizations.
Kimbriel: Yes, and with the private sector, there’s a huge difference between managing a vendor and building a partnership. Vendor management remains a significant, time-consuming challenge for state CIOs. It’s the strategic collaborations that can help in A) determining the best goals to pursue given available time and budget and B) supporting progress toward those goals in a way that can continue beyond one CIO’s tenure. These partnerships can also help in establishing ways to measure that progress.
Webb: Using well-defined metrics is one of the best ways to demonstrate the value of technology. It also helps in terms of decoupling technology from politics. Clear results are hard to dispute!
Kimbriel: And metrics are also important as state CIOs face more visibility and accountability than ever. It takes courage to step into this role, where you’re at the nexus of four forces that are beyond your control. Political pressure. Constituent pressure. Employee pressure. And consumer pressure. You can never make everyone happy all the time, so avoid “analysis paralysis” by staying focused on what you can do.
Webb: I would also encourage state CIOs to stay focused on the opportunity to make a real impact on people’s lives. It really is all about outcomes. Through technology modernization, states can implement new capabilities, deliver new services and provide a more pleasant and effective experience for everyone. Keeping an eye on that larger purpose can keep you engaged and energized.
Want to join our discussion? Connect with Todd and Rick via LinkedIn. Then check out another blog post about state CIOs and cloud and learn more about Accenture’s Government Senior Advisory Program.
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