Election-year uncertainty may stall new state technology agency [Tampa Tribune, Fla. :: ]
(Tampa Tribune (FL) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) May 25--TALLAHASSEE -- Florida soon will have a new agency to handle state government's information technology, but a chief information officer may not come along till next year.
The reason? Floridians will vote for governor in November, and the head of the new Agency for State Technology is an executive-branch appointee.
Doug Robinson, executive director of the nonpartisan National Association of State Chief Information Officers, said Florida should expect to see a placeholder agency head at first.
Florida "would not be able to attract a highly qualified state CIO ... until after the election," Robinson said, explaining that top candidates don't want to worry about being out of a job mere months after taking it.
Florida's is the only state government without a CIO.
Should Gov. Rick Scott lose the election, "new governors have the full right to select their own leadership team, and the CIO is part of that leadership," Robinson said.
With the rising importance of technology, CIOs have become more of a high-profile position, said Chris Dixon, a senior analyst with Deltek, a Virginia-based enterprise software and information solutions firm.
"And it would seem unlikely that you would be able to plow a new course for the state before you find out who your next governor is," Dixon said.
Another issue is the flighty manner with which the state has addressed its information technology oversight.
Spurred in part by last year's disastrous rollout of a revamped unemployment website, state lawmakers this year passed a measure to consolidate the state's IT functions.
Technical glitches in the $63 million CONNECT system held up millions of dollars in claims to jobless residents, with the contractor and the state's jobs agency pointing fingers at each other.
Just two years earlier, though, the Legislature pulled the plug on a predecessor, the Agency for Enterprise Information Technology. Lawmakers created that in 2007 and then abolished it in 2012.
Scott vetoed the elimination of the agency, but although the agency survived, it had no employees or funding.
State Sen. Jeremy Ring, D-Margate, a former Yahoo executive, said the agency was a target for elimination because it had "no teeth" and was mainly an advisory group.
The former head of the agency, David Taylor, agreed with Ring, saying it was underfunded. But Taylor added that his team still was able to beef up network security and do some data center consolidation.
Regarding his successors, "they're going to have to multitask," said Taylor, now a vice president with German company Software AG.
This includes the drudgery of making a new state department from scratch: finding office space, hiring employees and getting administrative authority to sign contracts. Then they'll quickly have to move on to security and strategic planning to justify their existence.
Since the old agency went away, each executive department largely has been fending for itself when it comes to information technology.
Uniting those fiefdoms may be another challenge, Dixon said.
"You always have to broker relationships," he said. "A CIO can't just bully his or her way into other departments and make them do things," mentioning a need to balance overall policy with specific departmental needs.
The bill authorizing the new agency (HB 7073) hasn't been sent to the governor yet. Lawmakers transmit approved bills incrementally to make sure the governor has enough time to review all of them.
Once he receives the state technology agency bill, he has 15 days to sign or veto the legislation, or it becomes law without his action.
Scott is expected to OK the agency.
"We need it," said Ring, who championed the effort to recreate a state tech agency. "We're probably having security breaches and don't even know we are."
The bill appropriates $4.8 million for the agency the first year, with a staff of 27 full-timers.
Broadly put, it would create a central "state data center" and oversee the executive branch's information technology systems and development, including new projects of more than $10 million.
That kind of responsibility can lead to burnout or blame-shifting.
There were 51 turnovers in state CIO positions in the last three years, with the average tenure 21/2 years, according to Robinson with the information officers association.
That may not be surprising given the gravity of the information the state has to manage, including all-important state driver's license data as well as birth and death certificates.
"Corporations have one slice of your data," Robinson said. "But states have it all, from the cradle to the grave."
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