Wednesday, September 23, 2009

GTC East 2009: CIOs of the Year

Every autumn, the GTC East conference comes to Albany. Although it’s geared toward public-sector IT professionals, I’ve always found the sessions useful: they reflect the concerns and priorities of people who develop and maintain electronic records systems and let me to pick up snippets of technical information I might not otherwise obtain.

“Managing Technology in the Public Sector: CIO of the Year” featured three award-winning CIOs: Daniel Chan of the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), Kim McKinney of Broome County, and Ed Hemminger of Ontario County. They discussed three pressing issues -- workforce development, shared services, and creative partnerships -- and throughout the session discussed how they keep going in tough fiscal times. Many of their comments should resonate with government archivists and records managers.

Workforce development
  • Hemminger is reorganizing his unit and working with the New York State Department of Civil Service to reclassify positions. He is also dealing with the challenges of managing an older workforce: his staffers have immense knowledge and skill, but their recollections of old conflicts and slights are sometimes an obstacle.
  • McKinney actively recruits younger people, which means that she must examine how they communicate and assess the security and other challenges associated with allowing them to access, e.g., Web 2.0 sites. Some of her younger staff are connected to the open source community, and will periodically seek input from it -- to the county’s benefit. She’s also to create a project management position and focusing on ensuring that project staff transfer essential knowledge to permanent staff before they depart; however, owing to permanent staff shortages, this can be a challenge.
  • Chan is also seeking to cultivate new skills: he wants less emphasis on programming and more on thinking about enterprise architecture. He also wants staff to focus on project management and working with customers to identify business requirements; he is working with the Department of Civil Service to create a Business Analyst job title series (and I sure hope these Business Analysts will address records retention and e-discovery issues!) In addition, he’s leveraging open source technologies: financial hardship is forcing OTDA to cast aside its tendency to over-engineer solutions and to be more receptive to open source.
Shared services
  • McKinney noted that the Governor’s Office has offered local governments in New York State grant funding that enabled them to develop shared services. Broome County has centralized contract negotiations for several municipalities and is working on electronic payroll services for county and municipalities. The fiscal crisis has made localities a lot more receptive to sharing services; however, finding staffing to support these services is a challenge. McKinney emphasized that shared services and consolidation are different: in the former, one entity takes over everything and assumes all risk, whereas in the latter risk and responsibility are shared.
  • Hemminger is spearheading the installation of fiber optic cables that will connect all of Ontario County’s municipalities and which will lay the groundwork for sharing of GIS and other types of data and, possibly, consolidation of IT functions. Most of the county’s towns contract out their IT services, and the current fiscal climate actually provides new opportunities for developing shared services.
  • Chan stressed the importance of enterprise-level IT development and service-oriented architecture: the focus should be on developing robust services that multiple agencies can use and getting staff to buy into this model.
Creative partnership
  • Chan noted that in private industry, he often took on projects that were so large that no one entity could do them alone. When he moved into State government, he retained his focus on defining core aims and identifying people who could help realize them. He has found partners among vendors and among the other agency CIOs with whom he co-founded the Economic Security and Human Services Advisory Board. He emphasized the importance of having a forum that enables one to explain one’s challenges and seek input and help. No one forced the group into existence; it came together because its founders share common challenges and values.
  • Kim McKinney ensures that the vendors with which her unit repeatedly does business are deeply familiar the unit’s business needs and can offer effective solutions. Good vendors know that they need to do this, and they also supply information about what other localities and State agencies are doing. She also partners with the State: State projects are more successful when the localities are involved (which makes sense given that the state’s social service infrastructure is largely county-run and State-supervised). Finally, she draws upon the expertise of fellow members of the New York State Local Government Information Technology Directors Association (NYSLGITDA).
  • Ed Hemminger, the current NYSLGITDA president, echoed McKinney’s comments concerning State-local partnerships -- local governments are often the public face of State government application deployment -- and working with well-chosen vendors. He also advised attendees that they should eject from their offices any vendor trying to sell them products -- as opposed to solutions (having interacted with both types of vendors, I heartily concur). In addition, he noted that good partnerships are rooted in relationships: it’s important to know one’s partners and their needs and goals.
I was particularly struck by Hemminger’s closing remarks, which targeted IT professionals but are equally applicable to archivists: in times of scarce resources, we cannot afford to reinvent the wheel. Our own attitude as leaders is the only thing that is going to see us through, and we should try to look upon the current fiscal challenge as an opportunity.

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