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CIO Academy: Good Governance Relies on Better Use of Resources, Improved Accountability

When asked what constitutes a success in the state IT governance space, California State CIO Amy Tong said the ultimate goal is establishing a structure that functions well regardless of who is at the California Department of Technology's helm.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The expectations around IT have evolved to a point where good governance is no longer a luxury; it is now a requirement for the public sector and the companies they do business with. 

During the California Public Sector CIO Academy on March 1, California IT leaders gathered with their private-sector colleagues to hash out the barriers standing in the way of good governance models and what to do about them.

At this juncture in IT, the focus seems to fall on the need for better use of resources and accountability throughout processes. As Deputy CIO Chris Cruz noted, the California Department of Technology is concentrating its efforts on unifying the state enterprise to enable a more inclusive statewide IT community.

“I think governance is definitely what I call a byproduct of many different functions. There is project governance, there’s organizational governance and there is operational governance,” he explained. “Director [Amy] Tong and I are trying to set expectations with enterprise governance as well to really blend those governance models together. It’s really about participation, it’s about accountability, responsibility and having the necessary authority to make decisions.”

And the communication and coordination that follows an effort like this is what the private-sector partners believe will lead to more successful projects down the road.

As VMware’s Nick Marquis explained, there is often a disconnect between the needs within a state agency and what they are able to communicate to the solution provider community. He said better alignment between the technology and business sides of the house is essential for achieving an optimal outcome.

“It is very, very hard to do business with agencies that don’t have IT governance. You might not realize, but all of the sales teams at VMware, and I’m sure other manufacturers can relate to this, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out how our solutions can help solve business issues. If an agency doesn’t have governance in place, what we typically see is nobody really knows what problem they are trying to solve,” he said.

As California works to overhaul and streamline its IT procurement processes and other major initiatives, Tong, who also serves as state CIO, said governance has been a main driver of these efforts.

Establishing a chain of communication and a structured channel for communication has also opened the door to improving state processes through gathering input from a variety of sources.

“Governance is not something that you operate on a piece of paper. Governance is not about just meeting with folks just so that there is a status. I’m on a governance board; governance is everything about you providing a platform for the information, the input, to be received and then you do something about it,” Tong explained “The IT procurement modernization, that’s in response to both our state entities as well as our vendor community saying, ‘You guys need to do something about it.’”

The need for better communication is also something that Zulfikar Ramzan, chief technology officer with Dell EMC, sees permeating the security conversation as they struggle to translate technological capabilities with the needs of the business. He calls the disconnect “the gap of grief.”

“That inability to translate between low-level security detail and higher-level business objectives is this gap of grief,” Ramzan said.

One part of transcending this gap is communicating more effectively, but the other portion is finding the right technology and process to better facilitate the communication. When tied in with good standards, he argues organizational objectives are more attainable.

When asked what constitutes a success in the state IT governance space, Tong said the ultimate goal is establishing a structure that functions well regardless of who is at the California Department of Technology's helm. 

*The California Public Sector CIO Academy is an event hosted by Public CIO, sister publication to Techwire. This story was originally published by Government Technology.

Eyragon is the Managing Editor for Industry Insider — California. He previously served as the Daily News Editor for Government Technology. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.