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Cliff Hangers

Cliff Hangers

Paul Quade knows when his story will end. Just under a year from now, on Feb. 28, 2001, he'll step down from his 18-month term as the state of Colourado's first cabinet-level CIO. And by then, as a direct result of his change leadership efforts, the state's government IT systems will either be more efficient, more effective, more customer-friendly than ever for the state's employees, citizens and businesses-or they won't. It's as simple as that, and either way Quade's out the door. Problem is, although Quade knows precisely when his story will end, how he gets there is the real trick. And it all hinges on the answer to one key question: Can a temporary CIO effect permanent change?

Quick-fix turnarounds and temporary CIOs aren't new concepts, even in government, but Colourado's take on them is unique. Not only is the state attempting to reinvent IT operations through a new, central CIO, and not only is Quade, 53, the first person to fill this role. But it's also Quade's first CIO job, and he's doing it as a loaned executive on an 18-month leave from his real job as director of data center planning and engineering at the Denver office of Galileo International, a Chicago-based travel services provider. The state's goal is to use Quade's industry perspective and business best practices to make the most of Colourado's IT investment. Quade's challenge, beginning last September, is to be a catalyst for change. He must align 20 disparate state agencies, enable information flow between these agencies and the citizens they serve, consolidate the state's IT purchases and services, and find his own successor. All before Feb. 28, 2001.

"When I first took this job, my wife asked, 'Why are you doing this?'" Quade says, and he really had to consider his answer. "I certainly didn't do this for political or career reasons," he says. In fact, he expresses no desire to parlay this job into a permanent CIO position elsewhere. Instead-and he knows this sounds "mom and apple pie," but he means it-his main concern is for his adopted home, the state of Colourado. "I want to use my expertise and talents to make Colourado a better place to live and to do business," Quade says. "Selfishly, I'd like to look back in 10 years and know I helped create changes that made a difference."

Best-Laid Plans

Seven months ago, Quade was on the outside looking in. As director of technology and planning at Galileo's global data center in Denver, Quade also served as chair of the state's Information Management Commission (IMC), a public-private sector group that had been working for several years to help state IT executives understand and implement better business practices. Because of his IMC experience, Quade had firsthand knowledge of the state's IT organisation-or lack thereof. "The state was like a holding company with 20 little companies," Quade says. In fact, the state had 21 independent agencies, each with its own CIO and significant IT budget. There was no central IT decision making or purchasing. Consequently, each agency developed its own systems, and the state was stuck supporting as many as a half-dozen different hardware, software and network standards, as well as a whopping 72 different IT procurement centers. "Agencies didn't share information, resources or capabilities," Quade says. In some cases, the segregated systems were just inefficient-no automated processes for citizens to renew drivers licenses or for businesses to obtain permits. But in other instances the technical shortcomings were embarrassing. "We had people in prison collecting welfare," Quade says.

Since signing on as CIO last September, Quade finds himself on the inside staring at a hard deadline. With the calendar as his guide, Quade has adopted an aggressive project management approach to addressing the state's IT shortcomings. Among his objectives:

Build an intranet. The state had no web-based means for sharing data among its agencies-never mind citizens and businesses. Yet this turned out to be one of the easiest and most visible changes Quade could initiate. He made it his first objective, due last Dec. 1, and his cross-functional development team actually delivered it three weeks early-a key first win.

Simplify procurement. When Quade took over, Colourado had 72 different procurement centers, and each of the agencies was signing off on its own IT purchases. Quade now signs off on any state IT purchase over $25,000, and by this month he wants to create a single, web-based procurement center for all IT purchases. The goal here is not just simplification but to cut the state a better deal by consolidating bulk purchases.

Standardize. Currently, the state has roughly a half-dozen hardware, software, network and e-mail standards. Quade hopes to narrow the options for each standard to two, if not one, by the end of his term.

Centralize. It's unrealistic to think that Quade might centralize all of IT in 18 months, but he does think it's possible to bring together all of the agencies' service arms-network, database and desktop support-in a single help desk office that would serve state government under the terms of service level agreements.

Build for the future. In addition to changing how the state manages technology now, Quade has to recruit or groom a successor to replace him. He doesn't know whether the state will hire from within or try to recruit from outside the state, but he does expect to devote considerable time during his last six months to finding a permanent CIO.

The key to pulling off these dramatic changes, Quade says, is to move fast and to avoid insurmountable goals. Complete centralization is one example of a losing proposition-it would require state legislation to create a new IT agency, and Quade doesn't have the time or energy for that battle. Instead, he's focusing on centralizing just the support functions. Outsourcing is another no-win. It would be easy to turn over at least part of the state's IT organisation to a technology vendor. But currently, the state has a 1918 law on the books that forbids giving work to a nonstate agency if such a move would result in laying off state employees. Quade already has his hands full battling for his budget; he doesn't want to write new legislation too. And don't look for him to unveil one of these grand DMV automation plans that crashed and burned in California and Washington. "Those are examples of when IT tries to slam-dunk something," Quade says. "Real success takes patience and anticipation." Especially when the clock is ticking.

Why a Temp?

To put it bluntly, Colourado opted for a temporary CIO because the state couldn't afford to hire one of Quade's caliber permanently.

It was just over a year ago that Gov. Bill Owens took office and made IT reform a priority of his administration. Owens' first step was to create an Office of Innovation and Technology, which he appointed Secretary of Technology Marc Holtzman to oversee. A well-heeled, former investment banker who essentially volunteered for this full-time job (his nominal salary is $1 per year), Holtzman was charged with crafting an IT strategy for the state and then hiring a central CIO to execute it. But not just any CIO. Owens and Holtzman wanted a top-level executive who knew how to run an IT organisation like a business, but who also understood the machinations of government.

Quade's name surfaced immediately. Owens and Holtzman both knew him from the IMC, and they were impressed with his business and technology acumen as well as with the relationships he already had developed with state agency CIOs. They approached him about taking the job, but he declined. He didn't want to switch careers, and frankly the state couldn't even afford to match, never mind top, his Galileo salary.

But then Owens and Holtzman came back with a new idea: What if Quade signed on as a temporary CIO, at his current salary, just to initiate the IT turnaround? Then he could hand over the reins to a successor and return to his old job at Galileo. Quade liked that proposal, so Owens personally called Quade's boss, Jim Lubinski, Galileo's executive vice president of operations, to ask whether he would consider lending out Quade. Hardly a quid pro quo, Owens wanted to borrow Quade for two years, during which Galileo would continue to pay his full salary. In return, Galileo would get...well, basically the satisfaction of being a good corporate citizen.

"My first thought was, 'Why would I want to do this?'" Lubinski recalls. But then he talked to his CEO, James Barlett, who pointed out that the governor doesn't ask for a lot of favours, and perhaps it would be unwise to deny this request. After all, Barlett stressed, Galileo wants to be a long-term player among high-tech employers in Colourado, and how might the company's prospects be coloured if executives said no to the governor?

Lubinski couldn't afford to lose Quade for two whole years, so he went back to Owens with a counterproposal: an 18-month loan, during which Galileo would continue to pay Quade's full salary, but only on the condition that Quade work at Galileo for one week per month. Owens accepted, and Lubinski started looking at the scenario as a win-win: the state gets the CIO it needs, while Galileo gets a little PR and a chance to do some succession planning by training people who might eventually fill Quade's shoes. Quade, meanwhile, gets the opportunity to stretch his wings in an entirely new leadership role. "At the end of the day, we expect Paul to learn things that he wouldn't have gotten here, and [lending him out] really is just a good citizen's act," Lubinski says.

Of course, it's noteworthy that, partly as a result of this deal, Owens subsequently appointed Lubinski to the Governor's Commission on Science and Technology. The state also invited Galileo to share critical, real-time data from Colourado's private Y2K command center last Dec. 31-a huge advantage for a business that needed to monitor its global operations. "That alone might have been worth giving up Paul for a year and a half," Lubinski says.

Make or Break IT

There are many good reasons why Quade could fail in his effort to lead change in Colourado. The legislature, for one, has to appropriate the money he needs to complete his projects, and budgetary issues are never a safe bet in government. The agency CIOs are another potential obstacle; without their buy-in, Quade's initiatives will fall flat. And then there are the state's 650 rank-and-file IT employees. What happens if they decide, as state workers can do, to "wait out" the Quade regime-to resist his efforts and just see what the next CIO brings to the table? Quade is well aware of these road hazards, and he's tried to deal with them upfront.

As an appointee of a Republican governor, Quade has enjoyed something of a honeymoon period with the Republican-controlled legislature. But he realises that situation could change fast, so he's working hard to develop good relationships with key leaders. This-playing politics-is where Quade feels he's challenging himself most.

With the agency CIOs, Quade has tried to ply his team-building skills. He created a CIO Forum of the 21 agency CIOs, who meet as a group every two weeks and in various subcommittees between sessions. In these teams, the CIOs have started to find common ground and tackle common projects-for example, the centralization of services that Quade has proposed. Henry D. Wharton, CIO of the state's Department of Human Services, says he already sees a difference from Quade's team-building. "We're making progress toward sharing information [across the agencies]," Wharton says. "We all see the benefits to be gained by our centralised efforts, and he's brought us together not with a gun, but with a carrot. What we're doing makes sense."

But what happens when Quade's changes actually start affecting people's jobs? That's when the "wait him out" attitude might arise. Quade is concerned that he may end up tangling with the state employee unions, but already the agency CIOs are rallying to his support. "We can't wait him out," says Steven McNally, CIO for Colourado's Department of Labor & Employment. "We can't wait around another two years. The time is now. We can step up and become the automated state we all want to be. But the only way we can be successful in our time here in the state is if Paul is successful in his 18 months."

And then there's Quade's other job. So far, Quade has managed to put in his one week a month at Galileo, and he seems to have a good handle on his staff and projects. But Lubinski is prepared to recall Quade early if there's any sign of slippage at Galileo, and Quade still wonders what will happen when his 18-month stint ends. "I can go back once a month now and get reengaged in the job for a short time. But how will I go back to Galileo and get reengaged full time?" Quade says. "The job will be different, and I'm going to have to fit back into the organisation."

So Far, So Good?

Last November, the state went live with its intra-agency intranet-the first tangible evidence of Quade's influence. The fact that he delivered it three weeks earlier than his self-imposed Dec. 1 deadline shows "hard progress," says McNally from the Dept. of Labor. "The intranet gives Quade the ability to go to the legislature and say, 'Here's what we've accomplished.'" But now Quade has to ride that success and build on it to achieve his larger goals of standardization and centralisation. Which again begs the question: Can a temporary CIO really bring about permanent change in an entrenched state bureaucracy? His bosses think so. "Because the job is new, he's not fighting conventional wisdom," says Secretary of Technology Holtzman. "He's an outsider with a fresh set of eyes," says Lubinski, Quade's boss at Galileo. "He's not beholden to the long-term employment of the state, so he can make recommendations as he sees fit in the best interests of the state."

As for Quade, he's got his plan, his calendar and his mission. Six months down, 12 more to go. He knows when his story will end, but he's still just as anxious as anyone to see how he's going to get there.

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