NASCIO chief: Change is coming to state leadership, CIO ranks

Ask the CIO: SLED Edition today kicked off Federal News Network’s expanded coverage into the state and local government IT sector.

The new focus will be highlighted by a weekly radio program serving as a connection between federal, state and local IT, airing Thursday mornings at 11 a.m. ET on 1500 AM in the Washington, D.C. area and on FederalNewsNetwork.com everywhere.

I’ll be the host drawing on my background as the first chief information officer in both California and Massachusetts, perhaps arguably the first officially designated state CIO in the country, and also president of National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). And just to give the show further perspective I’ll rely on my 20 years as a systems integrator serving public sector clients across the U.S.

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Our first guest on Ask the CIO: SLED Edition was my old friend and colleague, Doug Robinson, the executive director of the aforesaid NASCIO, and whose career spans over 35 years in public sector information technology, including positions in state government, higher education and IT consulting. Prior to joining NASCIO, Robinson served as executive director in the Governor’s Office for Technology in the Commonwealth of Kentucky

Our conversation covered a wide range of government related IT topics, including federal, state and local issues. And as expected, Robinson was his usual informed, frank and collegial self.

He addressed issues including NASCIO history, state CIO priorities, federal versus state CIO role and responsibilities, and an interesting take on the performance of state CIOs who have become federal CIOs.

We also discussed continued state-federal differences over federal regulations that actually pose obstacles for state IT consolidation/optimization and risk-based cybersecurity investments, highlighted by the congressional testimony of NASCIO President Bo Reese of Oklahoma last July.

Robinson also offered advice for the federal IT industry community interested in dipping a toe in the state and local IT market; the upcoming NASCIO conference later this month in San Diego; and finally, and perhaps the most startling, the huge impact the upcoming election in November will have on state CIO ranks.

Robinson provided some interesting and provocative answers on these topics that I would like to highlight. Of course, you can go at any time to the podcasts for the entire interview.

I’ll start with Robinson ’s remarks concerning the 2018 election. It is not an understatement to say that it will have the greatest impact on state CIO ranks since the massacre resulting from the 2010 election when 31 new governors were elected resulting in 26 new state CIOs.

Once again like in 2010, there are a bunch of gubernatorial elections — 36 in all. Due to term limits or retirements, there will be 18 new governors at the very least come January 2019. For all intents and purposes, that means as many as 18 new individuals sitting in the top seat at the state office of the CIO, and 18 new NASCIO members.

In addition, some polls are showing that even several incumbents running for reelection may see their seats flip to the other party, causing even more disruption with additional state CIO churn.

Now it is possible that the new governors, if they are from the same political party as their predecessors, make keep the current CIO; however, history has shown us that while possible, it is infrequent. (For greater analysis of the elections’ impact on state CIO ranks see my other article).

On technology and governance, one especially notable trend Robinson mentioned involved mainframe direction. While the Annual State CIO Survey will be released at the NASCIO Conference later this month, he shared some of the major findings. A number of states have already moved to mainframe as a service with off premise private sector providers to manage their mainframe environment, plus a significant number are planning or considering it.

It’s interesting to me that while data center privatization efforts two or more decades ago met such bureaucratic and institutional resistance and were found so difficult to achieve, cloud computing in just a matter of a few years has caused the heretofore impregnable data center walls to crumble. Gist for another article, methinks.

On the topic of federal IT vendors thinking about participating in the state and local IT marketplace, Robinson and I discussed the fact that they are often amazed to learn that according to Deltek the state and local government IT market is $117 billion in spending, which exceeds the federal IT market by some $30 billion. He offered his advice for those contemplating market entry, “If you’ve seen one state, you’ve seen one state,” indicating the broad disparity among various state governance organizations particularly when it comes to IT authority, budgeting, spending and procurement. A huge market but it is not one for casual participation.

Notwithstanding my ill-fated attempts to break into the federal CIO ranks after 9/11, we also discussed the fact that over the last dozen years or so we’ve seen a number of state CIOs move on to federal CIO positions — California’s Teri Takai at the Defense Department, Utah’s Stephen Fletcher at the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, Colorado’s Mike Locatis at Energy, and even the Federal CIO Vivek Kundra, formerly CIO in Washington, D.C., and Virginia. Robinson said that state IT leaders who have made the transition over to the federal side had “aspirational” intentions but missed the state environments where goals and strategic objectives may be more rapidly realized.

Next, Robinson described a recent conference call the Federal CIO Suzette Kent had with state CIOs. She covered the administration’s agenda, recognized the critical link between the federal government and the states whose annual revenues are augmented by an average of 30 percent from federal funding, and highlighted cybersecurity and regulatory issues such as were the focus of the recent congressional testimony of NASCIO President Bo Reese, mentioned earlier.

Robinson also discussed the emerging role of the state chief data officers (CDO) and how that position is evolving. There now are 19 state CDOs, most of whom report to the CIO; however, trends indicate that that will change. CDOs themselves prefer independence, and with data being recognized more and more as a critical strategic asset, Robinson oresees more of a peer to peer relationship developing in the future.

Robinson wrapped up with a few other highlights of the upcoming NASCIO conference in San Diego in late October. In addition to the Annual CIO survey there will be an updated study on cybersecurity, along with the results of a report on IT acquisition reform.