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CIOs band together to lift Michigan's fortunes

Julia King | May 6, 2014
Three years ago, when David Behen signed on as the state of Michigan's CIO at the age of 42, he knew he didn't have all the knowledge or experience he would need to do the job. So he did what he says any good leader would do -- he asked for help.

"We also provide time for people to be innovative," she says. "All of the conference rooms are reserved, and we have a lot of innovative stuff come out of that time. It's a productive way to provide time for employees to be innovative."

But many of the CIOs gathered here are from organizations that don't have the time, money and/or staff to allow techies to work on their own innovations during working hours. Others are constrained by rules governing union personnel. And in some cases, dedicated innovation time doesn't jibe with company culture. But despite the differences in their organizational cultures, all of the members extol the value of each and every discussion the group has had as well as the numerous benefits of meeting regularly with their peers.

"It's my view that in IT, it is always good to see and learn about other environments and arenas," says Mark Cybulski, CIO at ZF North America, a driveline and chassis manufacturer that's one of the top 10 global suppliers to the automotive industry.

"My environment is not the same as many others in the group. For instance, we use lots of software packages and computer-aided engineering and, so far, we don't have pingpong tables or beach balls here. But discussing other topics, such as hearing firsthand evaluations of Google apps or Microsoft Office 365, can jump-start your own efforts," he says.

Even more valuable, Cybulski says, is the face time with fellow IT executives from other companies.

"Meeting as a group changes the mindset around collaboration. People are willing to divulge things verbally and face-to-face that they're not going to post online or tweet about. They're not going to tweet that they just had a massive failure with a cloud supplier. But here, if someone asks about my experience with a certain supplier, I'm willing to talk about things that they might want to be wary about and share lessons learned."

Security in numbers

It takes a network to protect a network

In 2012, the state of Michigan recorded an average of 187,000 cyber anomalies every day across government computer networks. CIO David Behen took the issue directly to the CIO Kitchen Cabinet.

The issue shot straight to the top of the cabinet's priority list. The CIOs assembled their chief information security officers into a cabinet of their own to collaborate on the issue. The end result: Michigan's first-ever Critical Cyber Response Strategy, a comprehensive framework for preventing, responding to and recovering from attacks on Michigan's critical infrastructure.

Released in September 2013, the strategic plan quickly attracted the attention of the White House and was held up by the Obama administration as a model for other states to follow.


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