Q and A with Teri Takai

Since Teri Takai became CIO for the state of Michigan in 2003, the office has enjoyed significant results, including savings of $100 million (U.S.) Bringing to the table years of experience in senior roles at Ford Motor Co. and EDS Corp., Takai is a large part of why Michigan is highly ranked within the government technology field. She was saluted herself when Crain’s Detroit Magazine named her as one of its 100 Most Influential Women. Takai spoke with senior writer Lisa Williams at the Lac Carling Congress, where among other issues they discussed the challenges of her job and why more women aren’t in senior public sector positions. Excerpts from their conversation follow:

Q. I’d like to start with your background. I know that you attended the University of Michigan, what did you study there?

A. My undergraduate degree is in mathematics, and I have a master’s degree in management.

Q. So the work that you’re doing now as CIO of Michigan, was this the kind of thing you always wanted to pursue?

A. I really started off being interested in technology, and went directly into the automotive industry, because of course being from the Detroit area, that’s where a lot of the jobs were. So I went to work for Ford Motor Co. and worked for the bulk of my career in the automotive industry, and really had no idea that I would ultimately be going into a government role. So when I was approached by Governor Jennifer Granholm to look at a job in government, my first reaction was, ‘I don’t think so’, because I had never really thought about it. But when I talked to her, she really convinced me that I was at a point in my career where it was important to talk about getting into government and really looking at public service, and that’s how I ended up here.

Q. What are the major projects or initiatives that your office is working on?

A. Well, we’re working really in three different areas…First of all, our direction is to make government more efficient, and so our intent there is to make sure that the information technology dollars that citizens are spending are well spent…we’ve reduced over 25 per cent of our spending, over $100 million (U.S.)…so that’s number one, is to make government work more efficiently. The second is what’s being discussed (at Lac Carling), it’s really to make government accessible and give citizens, through the technology, multiple channels, multiple ways, and make it easier for them to do business with government.

The third thing that we’re focused on really is to meet the citizen demands to grow the economy. In Michigan that’s a big deal. Our whole view is that we have to create jobs and we have to retain jobs, and so many of our initiatives are focused on making sure that happens.

The next area is really to protect our families, and that’s everything from human services to security…And the last thing that we always have to keep our eye on, because we are technology professionals, is prudently introducing new technologies where we believe it can make a difference in all of those other areas. So those are our objectives, those are the things that we’re focused on every day.

Q. Michigan is highly ranked in the U.S. with respect to technology in government…Since taking over the position in 2003, what role did you play in that?

A. One of the nice things for me in Michigan is that it had a long history of being very active in technology, under our former governor…Governor Granholm picked up on that, and what we’ve done is take a lot of the technology work that has been done before, but improve on the efficiency with which we’ve been able to do it. We’ve taken significant amounts of spending out by doing things better.

Secondly, we’ve consolidated all of our IT resources…One of the things that’s unusual about Michigan, compared with many other states, is that all of the IT professionals in the state report within my organization. In other states they’re dispersed across all of the individual agencies in the executive branch and so it’s very difficult. In fact the theme (Lac Carling) is around how do you get service transformation by looking inter-jurisdictionally. Well interestingly enough in the U.S., the inter-jurisdictional isn’t necessarily about federal, state and local, it’s about within a state.

So my major challenge was really to take an organization that was 19 different organizations and turn it into a single organization that could align with the Governor’s priorities…I think the legacy of what we’ve done and the ability to realign, to be focused on the governor’s priorities rather than the agency’s, has been some of the things we’re very proud of.

Q. You were ranked in the top 100 Most Influential Woman by Crain’s Detroit Business magazine. What was your response to that kind of acknowledgement?

A. Well, it’s really thrilling as an IT professional to be acknowledged along with 100 other women who are in various aspects of business, and I think it’s always wonderful to get recognition, to be in that pool of women who have all done such amazing things. It was really a thrill for me.

Q. All of the CIO’s I’ve interviewed have been men. Do you think there’s a need for more women in these kinds of roles? Why do you think it is that women are choosing not to go into this area as much as their male counterparts?

A. I think it is a struggle. I think that the information technology field is not different from many of the other fields where there seems to be a thinning out of women as you go up in the ranks, and I think one of the challenges for state CIO’s is that now that more CIO’s like myself are coming in from the private sector, the fact that most (private sector CIO’s) are men tends to mean that the state CIO’s tend to be men. And I think the challenge for us as women is to – number one – be willing to take on that leadership role.

Secondly, the state and government jobs have a significant amount more visibility, and by virtue of visibility have more risk in that the things we do right are more visible, but the things we do wrong are also more visible…there’s a lot more scrutiny and I think we just have to encourage women to take those roles on, and to be willing to be a large part of it.

Q. What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of your position?

A. I think the major challenge for us is really finding a way to do things faster. What’s interesting is the structural aspect, which isn’t terribly different in the U.S. from Canada. In order to do anything, you have to have a legislature involved, you have to have the executive office – in our case the governor – involved, you have to have the agency heads involved, and ultimately you have to have the media involved, because the media actually shapes how the citizens view government.

Q. What do you think is the main difference between e-government in the U.S. and Canada?

A. One of the things I find very fascinating is that many of our struggles are so similar. We have states instead of provinces, but the challenges with the federal government are still there, the challenges to the municipal governments are still there, so I think that those things are very, very similar. Some of the things that I’m so impressed with here at Lac Carling is that you have a forum like this focused on service transformation that’s focusing on the cross-jurisdictional issues…What I find in the U.S. is that we have very good groups that deal at a local level, state level and the federal level, but there isn’t the kind of dialogue and interaction that I’m seeing here, which is why I find this so very exciting.

The silos and the chimneys in the U.S. are very strong, and we’re just now starting to see some of that cross-jurisdictional (work) because times are tight and depending on where you are in the U.S. – and certainly in Michigan with the automotive industry – in many ways the economics are forcing much more of what you’re talking about here at this conference.

Q. I’m always curious to know what people do outside of the office. Are there organizations or causes that are important to you that you’re involved with?

A. Yes, the organizations that I’m largely involved with have to do with the support of children. One of the organizations is focused on taking care of children who in some cases have to be taken out of the home and then transitioned either into foster care or back into their families, so it’s all around taking care of children who are in difficult home situations. I do fundraising for that organization.

The second group that I’m active in, probably something that you have here, is called Junior Achievement, which is around educating children on how to manage their lives from a financial point of view. I think that’s so extremely important. So I sit on a board in the south east Michigan area, and when I’ve had time I’ve actually participated in teaching children.

The second area in addition to children are women’s groups. I’m active in a group called Michigan Women’s Foundation, active in a business women’s group and also a women’s technology group, because I think it’s important, back to your earlier point, to get women out there. And thirdly I’m involved in university activities, in one case it’s an advisory board on technology curriculum, and for another, it’s around an art gallery that’s associated with a local university. 064543

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