Working the Public Sector

By Esther Shein

(Back to article)

Until recently, Anderson was the CIO and director of research and development for Public Technology, a national research and consulting organization based in Washington, D.C. that serves state and local governments.

Prior to his current position in Dallas, Anderson served as CIO of Philadelphia from 1997 until 2000 and in the private sector as a vice president of Aetna U.S. Healthcare in business information systems.

With more than 20 years experience in the IT field, Anderson speaks with CIO Update, about the different challenges faced by public and private sector CIOs.

Q: What are the main differences between being a CIO for the private vs. public sector?

I think it's an advantage having worked in private sector. I bring new perspectives and I can envision raising the bar higher than had I just worked in government my whole career.

My experience in Philadelphia has allowed me to gain a reality for working in a government environment, particularly the politics; what it takes to get things done, working through a budget cycle versus the CEO giving you a blank check and telling you what new product they want delivered.

That doesn't happen in government and it takes planning and a lot of work to get a project out the gate. So I have the insights of how to use new technology and the benefits of how a citywide architecture can enable business opportunities.

Q: What were the main challenges you faced as CIO of Philadelphia?

In Philadelphia I think the drivers are different. I really had to learn the political environment. In the private sector, I worked for General Electric and for Aetna, but the drivers were sales and revenue.

Everything was very clear and everyone had the same goals even though you may have worked for a different department -- but at the end of the day, the metrics, our key business indicators were very clear. In the public sector they can be clear but they're very different. There certainly aren't profit margins you're being driven by.

The other big challenge is the silos; the departments. In Philadelphia in particular, in a strong mayoral environment, the departments are very independent and managing a central IT organization ... is a challenge when you're working with 52 different organizations that want to go and do their own thing.

For example, at Aetna, the CEO set the direction and said 'You will get here by June 1998' and we went forward on our mission. I did not have to market this strategy to the different departments. They were on board.Q: What are your primary goals for the new position?

One is IVR, an interactive voice response system. We're in the planning stages of doing it on enterprise-wide basis. Instead of just for the water department, our public works, 311 system (where non emergency calls come in) and probably another five departments that will have IVR initially. But it's being done in way so any department can use it.

Another is wireless broadband -- 70% of our workers are in field from police to trash collectors and there's a great opportunity to improve work order management by giving these workers mobile desktops so they would have access to same applications as someone in the office.

So they'd have access to GIS (global information system), voice over IP and email as a few examples, as well as the Internet. That just provides a great opportunity for us to communicate better and manage better and to rethink how we work and interact with each other and reduce a huge backlog of paper orders.

I think e-government is going to become a big factor again. Once people become connected to broadband they'll want to access services through the Internet more than they do today and the public will have high expectation for Internet services.

Q: What keeps you up at night?

A number of things. I have to try and move our organization forward while at same time keep it running and effective.

For the large part I see CIOs falling into a firefighting mode where there's so much change going on that things start breaking and it becomes an issues-management process as opposed to strategic management -- to the point where some managers sit there waiting for something to break and they lose sight of their mission.

The problem with that is then business gets frustrated because then IT isn't leading, it's trying to support.

So the things that keep me up at night are moving forward and balancing the two. You do have to put out a fire when it starts and then you have to be able to focus again to move forward on your initiatives. I'm working hard to put in a new management practice for the organization, one that's highly driven by performance metrics and planning and communication.