The Lure of the Private Sector

Where have all the CIOs gone? Gone to the private sector, almost every one. In the past year, nine top state technology managers have left their jobs.
July 2000
Ellen Perlman
By Ellen Perlman  |  Former columnist
Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.


Where have all the CIOs gone? Gone to the private sector, almost every one. In the past year, nine top state technology managers have left their jobs. And there's rumored to be a 10th one looking at the door.

What's happening that has caused a nearly 20 percent turnover in those technology offices? Most prominent, it seems, is that the private sector has shown these folks the money. The CIOs of Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, New Mexico, New York and Maine all went on to work for private-sector companies. North Dakota's chief information officer, Jim Heck, retired, and Jack Nold, former executive director of the Office of Information Services in Delaware, left to become an assistant professor at a college.

Nold says he had wanted to leave his post earlier but stuck around to see Y2K through; Y2K was one of the reasons Jim Hall, who was the CIO in New Mexico, stayed on until recently. One of the most recent to announce his departure was Mike Hale, Georgia's CIO.

But it seems the revolving door only leads one way. All of those who have taken over the vacant CIO offices have arrived from other public- sector jobs, save one. Bob Stafford in New Mexico had been a private- sector IT developer, and after his retirement decided to try to straighten out his state's IT infrastructure. "There is a big gap between where we are and our goals," he says. "Y2K put us another five years behind, and we were already five years behind."


Elsewhere in government, the problem isn't vacant seats. It's providing the technology the people filling those seats need. "Seat management," in which a government contracts for computers and services on a per-user basis, is an increasingly popular way for governments to get up-to-date computer equipment without purchasing and managing the pieces themselves.

Virginia has a plan in the works to be the first state to implement a statewide seat-management program. Vendors, for a flat fee per seat, would be responsible for buying, planning, installing, configuring, testing, maintaining, repairing, upgrading and disposing of desktop computers. Virginia is now spending $600 million a year on technology and has close to 70,000 employee workstations. The state is in the midst of a request-for-proposal process and hopes to sign a three-year contract for seat management, with three different vendors, by this summer.

A major advantage of the program is that, because it amounts to leasing, it removes computers from the state budget as a capital expense, helping shield the cost of the technology from the political process. "Once it becomes an operating expense, it's a recurring item and the legislature can't stop it," says Don Upson, secretary of technology.

Agencies will not be required to join the program, and Upson will gauge the contract's success by how deeply seat management penetrates agencies.


For a government Web site, one important measure of success is how many people visit the page. Some states have found a cost-free way of drawing people in: posting a conspicuous link to state lottery results.

On the Georgia home page, at, an eye-catching peach icon for the lottery is right next to, and displayed just as prominently as, the link to the state's 1999-2000 legislative session. "When there's a large jackpot in the lottery, we get inundated," says Tom Bostick, executive director of the Department of Information Services at GeorgiaNet Authority, which operates the site.

Once people are linked to the lottery site, they tend to navigate around to other Web pages, often discovering services the state has to offer. Other states have learned a similar lesson. The flashing lottery icon on Washington's home page is also bringing in electronic traffic. WAITING FOR WIRES

One thing the Dallas public schools most definitely cannot do at the moment is handle a lot of electronic traffic. "Someone could give me 40,000 to 50,000 computers, enough for five in the classroom and one for the teacher, and the majority would have to sit in a warehouse," says district CIO Ruben Bohuchot.

That's because most of the schools in the district were built around the turn of the 20th century. Many classrooms have just two electrical outlets. Recently, when Oracle donated more than a thousand computers to the district, it cost a quarter-million dollars to upgrade classrooms so children could use them.

The school district has plans for a bond issue to raise money to get more classrooms computer-ready. "We recognize the infrastructure problem is a major problem in Dallas," Bohuchot says. Once the infrastructure is in place, he vows, "I'll put in computers as fast as I can."

Ellen Perlman
Ellen Perlman | Former columnist |