During my recent briefing tour in the US I had the privilege of meeting once again Vivek Kundra, the US federal CIO whom I have known for a few years now, and the recently appointed CIO of the State of Michigan, David Behen.
I spent about an hour with Vivek in DC, chatting about some of the 25 points for improved IT management published by the OMB last December, and in particular about new ways of procuring IT, via mechanisms such as challenges or crowdsourcing the pre-RFP phases. As usual, it has been an open and candid conversation that I have thoroughly enjoyed.
A few days later, I met David Behen, who has been appointed State CIO by the new governor of Michigan. He told me about the governor’s background, which I have to confess I ignored being a foreign national, and about his attitude to make change happen. He introduced my sessions by giving an overview of where the State is from an IT perspective (traditionally it is one of the states with the most centralized IT) and praising the innovations achieved by several local authorities in the state around open government: he does come from local government and so understands the mutual advantage of partnership across jurisdictions. He and his staff also briefed me about an interesting proposal for an innovation fund that would help agencies engage in more risky endeavors assuming they can demonstrate a significant ROI: rather than working as a grant, the fund would be more a sustainable, long term loan with incentives for the most successful projects.
What struck me about David, as it always does about Vivek, were not only his openness and candor, but also his willingness to listen and relate our conversation to how they may be doing things differently. He showed a trait that I rarely find in government CIOs, irrespective of how good they are. grace.
The job of a jurisdiction-wide CIO is not easy, since there is always a delicate balance of power with CIOs in different agencies. One way to solve this issue is just to give him or her more authority. Another way (or, better, a complementary way on top of whatever authority) is to appoint a person who is not only capable and influential, but also able to exercise authority with grace, who is open to listening all parties in order to formulate better decisions.
I do believe that, in order to face the uncertainties and seize the opportunities in front of us, grace will be an increasingly important trait for successful government CIOs. Younger CIOs, who have grown at the beginning of the digital revolution, who are at ease reaching out for help and collaboration, who are willing to take risks and constantly challenge themselves, may be more likely to possess that trait. However I do know more seasoned CIOs who do too. It is time for them all to shine, and for those who exude power and a bit of arrogance to follow their lead.