When I was appointed Massachusetts’ first CIO by Governor Bill Weld back in the early 1990s, coming directly from the private sector, few if any state IT leaders had similar backgrounds. Since that time, however, we see governors – especially newly elected ones – opting for the Weld paradigm, finding their CIO from outside the state workforce.

Call it hope, experience, best practices or kismet, and while not happening across the board, private sector appointees to the highest level of state IT leadership have become the rule, you might say.

However, Ohio and its Governor Mike DeWine are definitely the exception to that rule. In fact, State CIO Katrina Flory has an impressive background under the tutelage of several governors and state CIO’s, most significantly her immediate predecessor Ervan Rogers, whose wholesale endorsement notably sealed the deal for her elevation to state CIO back in 2021, after a decade as deputy state CIO.

“I’m a long-time public servant,” Flory said. “I started in state government out of college, and I’ve had the honor to work with four different governors and seven different state CIOs.”

Joining the Department of Administrative Services’ (DAS), Office of Information Technology (OIT) as the deputy state CIO, she was perhaps more like the agency chief operating officer. She led efforts as an original architect and leader of two transformational Ohio IT initiatives – the now completed IT Optimization effort, and the ongoing IT Innovation initiative.

The IT Optimization initiative provided the standardization necessary to drive economies of scale through infrastructure consolidation (server, storage, mainframe, and network). The next step, IT Innovation, focuses on streamlining and modernizing state IT through a focus on digital experience, data analytics, enterprise shared services, on-premise or in public clouds, and collaboration.

Flory also led initiatives to establish DAS OIT strategic direction and oversaw enterprise shared service operations such as the Ohio Administrative Knowledge System (OAKS), InnovateOhio Platform, Ohio Business Gateway (OBG), and the eLicense system.

As state CIO, Flory also has a key ally in DeWine’s Lt. Governor Jon Husted, whom he designated as state chief innovation officer, and who leads the InnovateOhio team. DAS, through OIT, supports the InnovateOhio platform which highlights the Lt. Governor’s vision for digital services and serving Ohioans where they are, not just in state facilities.

“The Lt. Governor has not been shy about saying that Ohioans shouldn’t have to go to a government office to get services, but if they do choose to use that path, that should also be a good experience,” Flory explained.

The Lt. Governor has focused on the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles (BMV) and how the BMV can transform itself into an improved experience for citizens. “Whether you’re using BMV Online Services to get your plates online or if you’re going to the deputy registrar, there you can use the virtual queuing system, ‘Get In Line, Online,’ to better serve Ohio drivers who visit deputy registrars for BMV services such as license renewal or vehicle registration. You can create that appointment and get there and go about your business and be on your way,” said Flory. The Lt. Governor wants to make sure that the state reviews its services with an eye toward the customer by creating efficiencies and providing better services to Ohio.

Our discussion turned to one of my favorites – the CIO governance model – and how the state CIO is situated in the governor’s overall administrative organization. I firmly believe in the state CIO being appointed by the governor and being a member of the cabinet. That’s not the case in Ohio and Flory presents an interesting argument for keeping it that way. It’s based on religion! Yes, religion!

As indicated above, Ohio’s state CIO oversees the Office of Information Technology organizationally within the Department of Administrative Services’ (DAS) – a model which is by far the most prevalent around the country. In fact, as National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) Executive Director Doug Robinson told me just a few weeks ago at the association’s annual conference, states with a cabinet member state CIO have actually fallen in number over the last year, going from a dozen or so, to only about five. It’s a development neither he nor I welcomed.

Flory believes Ohio’s model makes sense. “I think when you start talking about the various business applications of our programs, that’s when you get into a manner of religion with those program agencies. They know more about their business than the technology agency, right? The Department of Transportation, or health and human services know their mission, and that application better than we would,” she said.

Actually, Flory realizes that her department is providing essential services, for example, to the ERP system with Ohio’s business partners for the system owner, the Office of Budget Management. “I think having those applications overseen by those business owners is probably the best path forward.”

While I like Flory’s religion metaphor, and told her I was going to steal it for use in my description of recalcitrant agencies’ feelings about giving control of their applications to the centralized IT shop, I was unconvinced. However she does seem to have the overall support of the governor, and lt. governor, and perhaps that may be enough. Plus, when Flory told me Ohio had 27 cabinet agencies, the designation lost a bit of its panache.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.