With business unfinished, Alaska Deputy CIO Jim Steele moves on

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Offering another example of how there might never be an ideal time for dedicated executives to transition out of state government IT, Alaska Deputy Chief Information Officer Jim Steele confirmed to StateScoop on Tuesday that he will soon return to the private sector.

Steele joined the state’s unconsolidated technology office — Enterprise Technology Services — working alongside former state CIO Jim Bates in 2015, then became the state’s interim CIO when Bates resigned in 2016, and has served again as deputy since Bill Vajda was appointed as Alaska’s first statewide CIO in April. The new deputy CIO will be Dan DeBartolo, currently the director of administrative services for the Department of Revenue.

Steele awaits his final day in state government conflicted. 

“I leave not with hesitancy, but certainly leaving claw marks on my desk,” said Steele, whose last day is Jan. 12. “I don’t really want to step away from this thing, because we’re really riding I think a historic moment in IT at the state. We finally have a governor that supports it and is willing to put administrative orders in front of us to help us be successful.”

After years of misfires, Gov. Bill Walker signed Administrative Order 284 in April, which finally gave the state’s technology office the authority to consolidate IT assets and personnel across state government. The second phase of that project is scheduled to begin in the summer of 2018, which is when Steele said he had originally planned to leave state government. 

He’s leaving a few months early because it will work out better for everyone this way, he said.

“It’s a huge milestone, it’s a huge phase, and I think doing a transition out with a new deputy at that time would be really tough on the organization. I think by getting somebody in there now, they have five, six months to ramp up and it will give Dan the chance to get the workings of the organization underneath him,” Steele said.

Though DeBartolo has been with the state since 2008, Steele said he may need some time to become accustomed to the IT organization — and an IT role instead of an administrative one — as the Office of Information Technology (OIT) heads toward what is often the trickiest part of any consolidation.

Phase one of the state’s IT consolidation was to gather all of what Steele calls “commodity IT,” generic assets that can be shared and scaled across the entirety of state government — things like email service or desktop support services. OIT has divided those assets into five categories — like cybersecurity and customer service — and assigned a chief technology officer to lead each. Phase two, which begins in summer 2018, is to sort out what to do with “line-of-business IT,” all of the assets and personnel that serve purposes unique to their businesses.

“They hold the crown jewels of IT for each executive branch agency, so there’s a lot of nervousness, I guess is the word I would use, to describe how some of these departments feel about consolidation,” Steele said.

The governor’s order gives OIT the power to do as it pleases when it comes to consolidation, but Steele said they plan to use a “light touch” in the second phase, not physically moving anyone out of their existing office, but are instead doing some shuffling of the government’s organizational chart. Line-of-business employees will be placed under the CIO’s office, but maintain a dotted line on the chart back to the agencies they serve.

“We could take a real hard-lined approach … and we’re not doing that,” Steele said.

The other reason he’s leaving early, Steele said, is because the right job opened up for him in Alaska. Though not ready to share which company, Steele said the new position will allow him to remain in the state that he loves and in an executive IT position, a thing in short supply in Alaska. Even better, he said, it will also allow him to continue public service from afar, because the company he’s joining is one that wants to be more proactive in how it works with state government.

When Steele was originally offered a job with the state, it was after having been brought in as a consultant to review several major IT contract renegotiations, he said. Steele remembered feeling “obligated” to take the role he was offered, but glad that he took it. The plan had always been to be a “single-tour” IT executive, he said, but now that it’s time to leave, letting go of such a large and influential project is proving difficult.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” Steele said.

Minor edits were made on Dec. 27, 2017 for clarity.

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Alaska, Bill Vajda, Careers & Elected Officials, Chief Information Officer (CIO), Gov. Bill Walker, IT consolidation, IT Infrastructure, Jim Bates, Jim Steele, Modernization, State & Local News, States, Tech News
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