Ed Toner

Blog: It's been a Great Year: What have I learned?

The end of my first year is here. Being new to the public sector, what have I learned?

A public CIO has to understand almost all aspects of the business of government, and understand how the pieces fit together. For example the unique mechanism of procurement in State government. Not to mention the Federal rules regarding matching funds, etc., on top of that. Is it in my budget? Do I have the spending authority? Do I have enough cash in the bank? Do I need to testify in front of the Appropriations Committee? Addressing the cabinet, testifying in committee meetings, chairing State Government Council Meeting, chairing Nebraska information technology commission council meetings……my team still has to give me cheat sheets for the correct protocol when I chair a council meeting. I encountered a huge learning curve with all the state policies, oversight rules and governance. Fortunately I have a great team around me to make sure I do not go down the wrong direction. In addition, various speeches to community groups, opening remarks at conferences, interviews, press conferences, even the one conference I attended and found out 15 minutes prior to the introductions that I was delivering the opening remarks.

The most important job skill I have utilized this year is the ability to address and implement change, build coalitions and deliver meaningful change that will live on beyond my tenure as CIO. State Agencies are a lot like separate small companies. While these companies collaborate on certain functions, their natural tendency is to operate independently. They prefer to develop or buy their own tools. Unless guided, they will build their own websites or applications and purchase disparate hardware. It is the job of the CIO to help Agencies understand that we are really one enterprise, not a collection of individual companies. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of collaboration and teamwork that has taken place across the State Agencies. There has been much more willingness to change than I ever imagined, and with multiple mergers in my career I have seen a lot of change. I could not have gained the traction and gotten so far on our consolidation efforts without the Agency leadership that helped foster this culture of change.

What isn’t different from the private sector is the passion of the workforce, the desire to contribute and the feeling of gratification that what you do really matters. The reward is effecting positive change for our State. The career ranks of state government hold plenty of talented people. Success was obtained by simply empowering the people around me, they wanted to make change and have wanted to for years. All I did was remove the obstacles and they delivered the results. Helping them to stay focused and making sure they have the tools to do their jobs. Leading this group of individuals is both inspiring and humbling. Success is the result of simply my ability to champion the team... together celebrating in what we do for the public.

Private-sector CIOs are certainly busy, but they generally are not swarmed by vendors at every public meeting or called to testify before committees. Advice to others considering a move to the public sector, absolutely do so….. if they can feel passionate about the mission of the organization and committed to serving the State. The CIO role will consume all your waking hours, and sometimes even your dreams.

Would I make the same decision if I had a chance to do it all over again….ABSOLUTELY!


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