Q & A: Bill Drost

Bill Drost became the first CIO of the government of Prince Edward Island in July 2000, tasked with raising awareness about IT in government and laying the groundwork for future applications and projects. In a recent conversation with Blair McQuillan of CIO Governments’ Review, Drost outlined the IT challenges that PEI faces, some of the initiatives he has overseen, and where his role as CIO is heading. Excerpts from their discussion follow:

Q. As the first CIO of the province, what challenges do you face?

A. The way I see it is that any organization that implements a CIO position really needs three CIOs – or has one CIO that goes through three phases – before recognition is gained. The first CIO really needs to do a lot of groundwork in awareness building and changing the culture of the organization to understand what the role of the CIO should be and what role IT and information management should play in the organization.

The second CIO normally does some infrastructure building and puts some systems in place. They build on the foundation that the first CIO was responsible for. Then the third CIO gets credit for a whole lot of stuff that the first two did.

I’m CIO number one and I have done a lot of awareness building and continue to do a lot of that. I’m also looking forward to laying the groundwork for the next phase, which is putting some systems and processes in place to maximize our return on investment (ROI) in the area of IT and information management.

Q. What achievements or initiatives do you point to and say, “I accomplished this as the province’s first CIO?”

A. It’s sometimes hard to look back and say, “What have I done?” When you’re in a senior management role, a lot of times you credit the people around you for seeing a job through to completion – not yourself.

I’ve been an advocate of putting a deputy level steering committee together to make executive level decisions around IT. We’ve got that together now, where before we functioned like eight or nine different organizations in relation to IT. Having a corporate level CIO and a deputy level executive steering committee has been two milestones. Now, I wouldn’t want to personally take credit for all of that as the deputy ministers have recognized the need for this. But certainly I have been lobbying for such a steering committee and I am glad that they have accepted it.

Q. Can you identify some of the experiences that you have had as a CIO which stand out most in your mind?

A. There are many areas that I look at and can see where we’ve made a lot of positive change. The human resources (HR) front is one area where I really focus a lot of my time and effort. I think we’ve come a long way in regards to HR management. I’ve put in place a corporate IT training fund where IT workers across government can tap into it and get training. It’s a fairly substantial fund for a small government such as ours. It’s roughly $1,000 per employee per year incremental to the training budgets that are already

in place.

Q. What unique e-government challenges does your province face?

A. The challenges that we have relate to the size of our province. The size is a challenge in relation to the critical mass needed to support an application. We can use an application like motor vehicle registry as an example. We were the first province in the country to be online with motor vehicle registry because we were able to implement it quickly due to our small size. But at the same time, after the first six months we only had 400 motor vehicles registered online.

So in one respect, it was easy to put something like that together and make it happen. On the flip side, if you’re looking at some sort of return on that application, critical mass becomes an issue that has to be dealt with.

Q. What programs, initiatives or issues are currently at the top of your agenda?

A. There are really three key areas I’m focusing on these days. First, we’re doing a major network infrastructure review. From my office, we’re leading a review of the needs versus the current investment around infrastructure.

For example, we have three Wide Area Networks (WAN) in the province and we have to ask ourselves some questions surrounding that issue. We need to ask ourselves if we need three and if so, what should they look like?

Are we getting the best bang for our buck on how we’re managing, building and maintaining these WANs? Our help folks have a network, as do the people in education, and the rest of the government is on another network. We’re a relatively small province and of course we want to make sure we’re getting the best return we can on those investments.

We’re also undertaking a review of our enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems – in particular as they relate to our payroll system. There’s been an expressed need to replace our existing payroll (system) and we’re stepping back a bit and looking at our HR solutions, versus our financial solutions, versus our payroll solution and that’s ongoing and will hopefully be wrapped up in a couple of months. That will give us a roadmap as to where we’re going to go in relation to ERP over the next number of years.

The third area will be putting mechanisms in place to get better decision making around IT expenditures and investments. In addition to our deputies’ committee, this also involves working with employees at the Treasury Board to raise their awareness of IT issues. This is so when an IT issue comes to the Treasury Board, for example, they can ask some pertinent questions about the value of the expenditure.

Q. Over the next five years, where do you see your role as CIO heading?

A. As the province’s CIO, I run an operational unit – in fact about half the IT workers in government work for me and the other half are dispersed across the departments. Many CIOs in the country do not have an operational unit – they are more strategic in their priorities and in their work.

At times, I’m finding the operational part demands a greater amount of my time and I do not have a chance to focus on the strategic part of my job. The strategic part is where I can add the most value to my organization.

So, in the next five years I would see the role of CIO becoming less operational and more involved at the strategic level. The danger with that is, if you move out of the operational level to the strategic, how do you maintain some degree of influence over the operational part of the business? That is something that will have to be dealt with.