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This fall, 25 Pennsylvania government CIOs trade ideas, learn from senior leaders and discuss how to meet growing technology demands with fewer resources in a certificate program at the Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
Budget cuts, increasing service demands and keeping up with emerging technologies like mobility and cloud computing have made the jobs of these CIOs tougher, said Charlie Gerhards, co-director of the Government Technology Institute that launched in August at the university.
"There are just a lot of things happening and a lot of demands on a CIO, and frankly there was never a venue for CIOs to collaborate, to look at best practices, to share ideas, to look at shared services as a way of dealing with some of this demand."
But through the Certified Government Chief Information Officer Program, the Pennsylvania university hopes to provide this venue.
Harrisburg University isn't the first to start this program, though. In 2005, the Center for Public Technology in the School of Government at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill created the Certified Government Chief Information Officer program.
Three years later, UNC-Chapel Hill, the Florida Institute of Government at Florida State University and the Public Technology Institute established the Consortium for State and Local Government Technology Leadership Development. The consortium developed a national certification and professional development program that includes a core curriculum.
In October, the Learning Center within the Government Technology Institute at Harrisburg University became one of a number of universities that's offering the certificate.
"This is one piece of a larger puzzle of trying to provide a venue, an opportunity for these CIOs to learn and grow and hopefully be more successful," Gerhards said.
In conversations with the university, the chief information officer of Pennsylvania, George White, identified a number of skills that CIOs need to hone through professional education, said Eric D. Darr, provost and executive vice president at Harrisburg University.
As budgets tighten, there's no room for wasting taxpayer dollars any more, Darr said. That means CIOs need to manage projects more precisely, identify and correct errors early, mitigate risks and put together contracts in a consistent fashion.
"These are all things that are part of this certification course that essentially lead to the ability to better manage and utilize taxpayer dollars," Darr said. "Most states in the union would want their CIOs to be able to do that."
By being in a class with 24 other CIOs, Brian Lecher from the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency realized that even though they're in different agencies and levels of government, they face similar issues.
The students come from a variety of agencies, including the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board and the Department of Environmental Protection, Gerhards said. They also come from county government and the commonwealth court system.
Lecher started the certification program to learn how others are handling security issues and what they think about the latest technology trends. As social media communications through smartphones and other devices continues to change, he's interested in learning about where this trend could head.
By having a guest speaker in the class who specializes in social media, he learned more than he would have otherwise.
"That's not anything I have insight into outside of class other than reading articles, so it's helpful," Lecher said.
Through panel discussions and lectures, the program brings in experts from the public and private sector. In the first few classes, they talked about the role and responsibility of the CIO as a leader, said Gerhards, former chief information officer for Pennsylvania.
The CIO's role is less about managing technology and more about being a thought leader who uses technology to work toward an organization's vision. That's a surprise to many people because they think about their job in terms of making sure technology operations run smoothly, he said.
One of the speakers, John Carrow, told the students what corporations expect from their CIOs based on his experience as the first CIO for the city of Philadelphia, a CIO for Unisys Corp. and an expert at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
"As a CIO you're no longer just responsible for technology, you're responsible for innovation and transformation of the business," Gerhards said.
Ultimately, Gerhards would like to see the certification program become a national standard. With budget cuts, CIOs don't have as many opportunities to get together and develop professionally. If they're given the opportunity to talk with each other, they'll come up with innovative solutions to common problems.
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