CIOs need to start preparing for a possible change or shake-up of government as this year's election approaches, according to a former US state CIO.
Gartner vice-president John Kost, who was CIO for the state of Michigan between 1992 and 1996, the first state CIO in the US, said IT leaders in the public sector need to start thinking about the politicians who might be in charge of their department or area of expertise in a few months' time. He advised preparing for change by looking for clues on their priorities in election campaigns and thinking about how these priorities could be supported by technology.
The task will be further complicated by financial pressures. Any incoming government is likely to make cuts, but Kost pointed out that there is no current indication of how much any government will try to reduce the budget deficit. He said it is important for CIOs to get the message across that savings will not be possible without good use of IT.
"A lot of politicians have very little understanding of IT," he said. "You are often in the position of having to educate a completely new set of people when they take office. It can be very challenging. We advise that you listen to what the candidates are saying - how they envision the government operation being different to now, what they are saying about services or projects. You need to think about who the ministers might be and what they might want to accomplish."
Immediately after the election, CIOs need to establish credibility with new politicians. Kost said some may have seen bad press about a particular IT project or department, and even used it in their election campaign as an example of something to scrap as the Tories have with the child database Contactpoint.
While MPs are likely to hold pre-election discussions with civil servants, Kost advised acting quickly after the election to establish credibility with new ministers and provide them with ways to achieve quick wins. "Get them feeling positive about things, and only after that tell them about the investment needed, such as replacement of back office systems."
Kost also advised keeping reports on what the IT department does succinct. "They don't want lots of detail. Don't complain about how under-staffed you are or about individual people. Stick to high-level information, such as the challenges you face or things that are preventing you from recruiting. And do not assume that the readers know anything about IT."
The general election is expected to take place on 6 May.
Photos: Rex Features