New NJ State CIO E. Steven Emanuel Won’t Reinvent the Wheel


At the NJTC CIO Conference in East Brunswick last week, E. Steven Emanuel, the recently appointed chief information officer (CIO) for New Jersey, spoke to a room full of other CIOs. This was Emanuel’s first foray into representing N.J. at an industry event since his November 2011 appointment, NJTC’s Maxine Ballen said, and he received a warm welcome from his colleagues.

As CIO for N.J., Emanuel oversees the New Jersey Office of Information Technology (OIT), which has 720 employees and a $100 million budget. A native of Teaneck, Emanuel is a plain speaker who doesn’t shy away from publicity, calls himself an instigator and a catalyst, believes in measuring and assessing success and knows exactly what he wants from his vendors. He also celebrates collaboration and cooperation and is interested in serving N.J.’s taxpayers. “One thing I really like about government is that I can have a direct impact on the taxpayer,” he told the group. Emanuel prizes those working for him. “I recognize my team as people who make or break my success, and I tell them that every chance I get.”

The vision for N.J. that emerged from Emanuel’s speech is of an OIT that won’t reinvent the wheel and is willing and able to borrow technology from government agencies that have already invented it. “I’ve told my coworkers, 85 percent of what I’m going to bring to the table to show success will be begged, borrowed and stolen” from colleagues in other states. N.J. will rely heavily on entities like the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

As a case in point, Emanuel said his office recently wanted to create a service catalog. One of his team members learned North Dakota had an excellent one. So Emanuel phoned his counterpart there, Lisa Feldner, who was willing to provide the software and all the PDFs. “I can’t think of a better response,” he said. “Why reinvent the wheel?”

The new CIO doesn’t rule out innovation, however. He said he envisions incorporating  the “bring your own device” method of mobile in the workplace, finding ways to integrate and secure the technology, and he champions ideas like wireless broadband to the rooftop.

To vendors trying to deal with the OIT, Emanuel provided a cautionary tale. When he was CIO in Montgomery County, Md., he was plagued by budget shortfalls that would have required him to cut 20 people from his payroll after he’d already cut 46. Around that time, a vendor stated it was exercising an annual option on its contract to increase maintenance costs by 4 percent. Emanuel told a journalist, on video, exactly what he thought of that idea, warning that vendors who couldn’t be flexible could lose government business.

The video of Emanuel–entitled “Warning to Vendors”—went viral on YouTube and elsewhere. While Emanuel was a bit miffed at the journalist who released it, he was more than happy with the result. “That video netted me a $2.8 million savings for Montgomery County alone within the first few weeks,” he reported. Vendors were willing to step up and find places where they could make cuts.

Later in his speech to the CIOs, Emanuel spoke about how he respects vendors. “We need to have the intellectual pool from our vendors, those folks who provide technology, opportunity and innovation.” The problem, he said, is there are too many vendors and not enough time to evaluate them. He said his office screens vendors by asking several questions, including: What business problem are you going to solve for N.J. and how do you know your solution is going to work?, Where did you find the information?, How do you measure the benefit of what you are proposing?, Who else implemented your solution, and may we talk to them? and If we consider it, are you willing to share the risk?

Addressing vendors, Emanuel said, “It’s not that we don’t want to hear from you; we can no longer afford to have the best thing since sliced bread come into the office and then have to research the value, benefit, problem and savings.” For those able to answer the questions and meet the criteria, Emanuel is implementing Vendor Day: one Friday per month, vendors will be able to pitch ideas and products the state could use or that could be the basis of a potential request for proposal.

Public/private partnerships are also important to N.J., Emanuel said, but he cautioned that his definition of “partnership” requires all stakeholders to assume risk. He spoke about a Michigan initiative in which a county needed a data center, couldn’t use commercial facilities but found the costs of establishing a center on its own too daunting. The county invited vendors to create a government-to-government data center and now is selling over capacity to other counties. The vendors won and the county won, Emanuel concluded.

One challenge for the new CIO is the aging workforce he supervises. As Emanuel put it, “The first thing I heard about the state’s IT employees is their average tenure is 21 years. That’s both good and bad. It’s good because I have people here who remember when a mainframe was a new toy. It’s bad because they are the same people who are filing retirement papers week after week.”

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