Like Cher and Madonna, the chief information officer of Kentucky is one of those people pretty much known by one name: Aldona. And she’s got about as much star power as those celebrities in the circle of technology officials and information gurus she travels in.
Aldona K. Valicenti, 61, joined Kentucky government four years ago, brought in to adapt state government processes to an electronic world. She began by carving out the position of CIO and establishing a Governor’s Office for Technology. Then she set about simplifying the way the state did business, redesigning its procurement processes and making services available online.
She has succeeded spectacularly at both these tasks. KYCares, an online services and information directory, offers data from multiple agencies for a user-friendly guide to 45,000 government and private sector services. A digital signature project, to cite one widely admired example, allows surface mining companies to satisfy state requirements electronically instead of by delivering boxes of paper to a government office.
Lately, Valicenti has been working on getting the state to take an enterprise-wide view of technology. Every month she holds a forum of cabinet secretaries to discuss standards and policy. She has spent considerable time testifying before Congress on state technology issues and recommending coordinated solutions. “With her high profile, she has enhanced the reputation of the state,” says Ron Bingham, former chief project manager of EMPOWER Kentucky, the state’s reengineering effort.
But the transition to 21st-century technology hasn’t been easy. When Valicenti arrived in Kentucky, she had to contend with the fact that each Cabinet office had grown its own IT shop in reaction to an unresponsive central information services agency. She drew up service agreements with the various departments, promising that her office would respond to their needs in the future.
This required a careful political dance. Some cabinet secretaries thought the new CIO was usurping their authority. “She entered into a shop where “centralize” has a bad connotation,” says Bingham. “Cabinet secretaries are very turf-conscious, and she had to have adroit political skills to be able to centralize what she has.”
She also had some old-fashioned chutzpah. State Representative Charles Geveden, who chairs a legislative technology committee, recalls asking Valicenti how she got the authority to enact so many administrative changes. “I seized it,” she confessed. “When there’s a job that needs to be done,” the legislator says, “she does what is necessary to accomplish the task.” In the end, though, Valicenti gained the trust of the agencies and used it to create economies of scale, consolidating enterprise-wide e-mail and data centers and unifying both the human resources and accounting systems.
Valicenti came a long way before landing in Kentucky. When she was four, she fled Lithuania on a cattle car with her parents and a brother to escape a Communist takeover. Her family lived in Germany and Austria before ending up in the United States six years later.
Valicenti didn’t come into her state job with a governmental background, but she did have plenty of experience with management and enterprise-wide strategy: She spent 22 years in Chicago as an executive with Amoco (now BP Amoco), the multinational oil company. She says she accepted the Kentucky offer because she wanted the challenge of carving out a completely new position. “I feel I do my best work,” she says, “when a new mold has to be made rather than fitting into an old one.”
All those years in private sector management were crucial in training her to run a state agency that now has 600 employees, 1,400 servers and 30,000 desktop computers, and delivers 40 million e-mail messages and 100 million mainframe transactions a month.
— Ellen Perlman
Photos by Patrick Pfister