After election, new NASCIO president has advice for lame duck state CIOs

With election results portending as many as 20 new governors next year, what advice does NASCIO President and Delaware state CIO James Collins have for the affe...

With 20 new governors expected in January as a result of the midterm elections, state chief information officers will likewise see a major change in their ranks as well. Eight state governorships flipped parties, and those affected CIOs are virtually certain to be replaced.

James Collins, Delaware state chief information officer

Additionally, another dozen or so states elected new governors from the same party but chances are very few CIOs will remain as well.

However, this has not always been the case. In fact, Delaware state CIO James Collins proved that when he survived the latter situation after the 2016 election. In that race, then-Democratic Governor-Elect John Carney asked Collins, who was appointed by outgoing Democratic Gov. Jack Markell in 2014, to stay on — so it can happen.

Collins was just elected president of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers at their annual conference in San Diego last month.

In a recent interview with Federal News Network, I asked Collins how that happened and what advice he had for the lame duck state CIOs out there. His response was instructive, pointing out that first you have to decide if you really want to stay.

“I had been working in multiple administrations,” he said on Ask the CIO: SLED. “And so I had to ask myself, ‘Do I have enough left in the tank to contribute to a new governor’s administration because they deserve people that are passionate about their vision?'”

Collins described his previous two years in office as a renovation project for which he had only completed the demolition stage. The new supplies had just shown up, so it wasn’t time to leave. The transition team had reviewed his organization’s work, their direction, vision and strategic plan, and determined that it was consistent with the governor’s priorities.

“Governor-Elect Carney, whom I had known when he was lieutenant governor and when he was our congressman, when I sat down with him he asked me about my desires and I told him my desire was to continue this work and I had the energy to work in his administration,” Collins said. “And he agreed. So here I am.”

He summarized his position by saying those who wish to stay should let key people know of their interest in being considered for the role.

“But I would also suggest that you lineup other options because I always say politics sucks all the logic and common sense out of everything,” he said. This is very true.

A governance model of IT leadership

No discussion of mine with a CIO colleague neglects to consider his or her CIO governance model and how critical it is to the success of the CIO’s performance. And my discussion with Collins was no different.

“All state CIOs are now appointed by the governor and over half report to their governors as a member of their cabinet,” said NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson, whom we interviewed on our program just a few weeks ago.

Collins is one of those who fit both criteria. So, I asked him to comment on the impact such a governance model has in terms of being an effective CIO versus the other half of state CIOs who don’t function within that kind of a strong governance framework.

“I absolutely am one of those CIOs that has the good fortune to report directly to the governor and sit on the cabinet,” Collins said emphatically. “And, I actually can’t even imagine it; I can’t imagine working in another model in 2018 because there’s hardly anything that’s being discussed at top levels of government from a strategy perspective that doesn’t involve technology.”

Collins went on to say that in Delaware’s IT management model the organizational structure includes actually putting IT leaders in each agency to sit at those leadership tables, so that they can have input into the strategy for those particular agencies.

“If you’re on the cabinet the CIO is going to be the one to instigate or drive priorities,” he said. “There’s an expectation from citizens that they’re going to have a digital government experience. And so the CIO has this unique perspective across all of government and can really be the one that’s driving those initiatives around digital government, around data analytics. And so if you’re not at the cabinet level, it’s really tough to drive those types of initiatives. And, and it’s my opinion that every government should be moving in that direction.”

I concur.

NASCIO celebrating 50 years

Collins is also thinking about how he will serve as NASCIO’s new president. The organization turns 50 years old next year, and they are planning a number of special activities throughout 2019 including a focus on the greater, deeper relationships between central IT and their agency partners.

“I want to bring together the leaders from the agencies with the central IT leaders to exchange information, to help see each other’s perspectives, and try to build on those relationships because that is essential to delivering the services that the citizens expect,” he said. “We’ve got to be working together and also securing the enterprise.”

Another area for NASCIO’s attention will be a continued emphasis on the state IT workforce. Collins said he wants to use the organization’s “collective genius” to figure out what are the IT positions of the future needed in state government, and to work on creating those positions to take the workforce to where it needs to be.

Finally, you don’t visit with the Delaware CIO without asking him to elaborate on his award-winning first place performance on the “Dancing with the Delaware Stars” competition earlier this year. It’s was quite a story and a big win for Boys and Girls Club of the Greater Dover area, but you’ll have to listen to the entire interview to learn more.

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Host John Thomas Flynn is former California and Massachusetts chief information officer and former president of the National Association of State CIOs. The show features conversations with state and local CIOs, CISOs, program leadership and elected officials, and the IT vendor community. Subscribe on Apple Podcasts or Podcast One.