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 insenior roles at Ford Motor Co. and EDS Corp., Takai is a large partof why Michigan is highly ranked within the government technologyfield. She was saluted herself when Crain’s Detroit Magazine namedher as one of its 100 Most Influential Women. Takai spoke withsenior writer Lisa Williams at the Lac Carling Congress, whereamong other issues they discussed the challenges of her job and whymore women aren’t in senior public sector positions. Excerpts fromtheir conversation follow.

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

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

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

A. I really started off being interested in technology, and wentdirectly into the automotive industry, because of course being fromthe Detroit area, that’s where a lot of the jobs were. So I went towork for Ford Motor Co. and worked for the bulk of my career in theautomotive industry, and really had no idea that I would ultimatelybe going into a government role. So when I was approached byGovernor Jennifer Granholm to look at a job in government, my firstreaction was, ‘I don’t think so’, because I had never reallythought about it. But when I talked to her, she really convinced methat I was at a point in my career where it was important to talkabout 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 officeis working on?

A. Well, we’re working really in three different areas…First ofall, our direction is to make government more efficient, and so ourintent there is to make sure that the information technologydollars that citizens are spending are well spent…we’ve reducedover 25 per cent of our spending, over $100 million (U.S.)…sothat’s number one, is to make government work more efficiently. Thesecond is what’s being discussed (at Lac Carling), it’s really tomake government accessible and give citizens, through thetechnology, multiple channels, multiple ways, and make it easierfor them to do business with government.

The third thing that we’re focused on really is to meet thecitizen 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 retainjobs, and so many of our initiatives are focused on making surethat happens.

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

Q. Michigan is highly ranked in the U.S. with respect totechnology 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 along history of being very active in technology, under our formergovernor…Governor Granholm picked up on that, and what we’ve doneis take a lot of the technology work that has been done before, butimprove on the efficiency with which we’ve been able to do it.We’ve taken significant amounts of spending out by doing thingsbetter.

Secondly, we’ve consolidated all of our IT resources…One of thethings that’s unusual about Michigan, compared with many otherstates, is that all of the IT professionals in the state reportwithin my organization. In other states they’re dispersed acrossall of the individual agencies in the executive branch and so it’svery difficult. In fact the theme (Lac Carling) is around how doyou get service transformation by looking inter-jurisdictionally.Well interestingly enough in the U.S., the inter-jurisdictionalisn’t necessarily about federal, state and local, it’s about withina state.

So my major challenge was really to take an organization thatwas 19 different organizations and turn it into a singleorganization that could align with the Governor’s priorities…Ithink the legacy of what we’ve done and the ability to realign, tobe 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 byCrain’s Detroit Business magazine. What was your response to thatkind of acknowledgement?

A. Well, it’s really thrilling as an IT professional to beacknowledged along with 100 other women who are in various aspectsof 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 thinkthere’s a need for more women in these kinds of roles? Why do youthink it is that women are choosing not to go into this area asmuch as their male counterparts?

A. I think it is a struggle. I think that the informationtechnology field is not different from many of the other fieldswhere there seems to be a thinning out of women as you go up in theranks, and I think one of the challenges for state CIO’s is thatnow that more CIO’s like myself are coming in from the privatesector, the fact that most (private sector CIO’s) are men tends tomean that the state CIO’s tend to be men. And I think the challengefor us as women is to – number one – be willing to take on thatleadership role.

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

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

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

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

A. One of the things I find very fascinating is that many of ourstruggles are so similar. We have states instead of provinces, butthe challenges with the federal government are still there, thechallenges to the municipal governments are still there, so I thinkthat those things are very, very similar. Some of the things thatI’m so impressed with here at Lac Carling is that you have a forumlike this focused on service transformation that’s focusing on thecross-jurisdictional issues…What I find in the U.S. is that we havevery good groups that deal at a local level, state level and thefederal level, but there isn’t the kind of dialogue and interactionthat I’m seeing here, which is why I find this so veryexciting.

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

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

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

The second group that I’m active in, probably something that youhave here, is called Junior Achievement, which is around educatingchildren on how to manage their lives from a financial point ofview. I think that’s so extremely important. So I sit on a board inthe south east Michigan area, and when I’ve had time I’ve actuallyparticipated in teaching children.

The second area in addition to children are women’s groups. I’mactive in a group called Michigan Women’s Foundation, active in abusiness women’s group and also a women’s technology group, becauseI think it’s important, back to your earlier point, to get womenout there. And thirdly I’m involved in university activities, inone case it’s an advisory board on technology curriculum, and foranother, it’s around an art gallery that’s associated with a localuniversity.

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