Walk on the wild side

On weekday mornings, Kim Bahrami’s alarm goes off by 5 a.m. She pulls on her sweats and heads into the early dawn for a brisk walk. In those quiet moments when she’s striding along the neighbourhood streets alone, the CIO of the state of Florida has time to brace herself for the coming day.

“It’s a lifesaver,” Bahrami said of her walks. “I always joke that if I didn’t get this exercise, I’d probably kill someone.”

The past year and a half have indeed been tough for Bahrami. She has had to completely restructure Florida’s IT operations, cleaning up the mess in the state’s technology office left by her predecessor.

When Bahrami took over as Florida’s acting CIO in July 2001, she inherited a maelstrom of controversy. The previous CIO, Roy Cales, had just resigned after the state comptroller released a scathing audit questioning his purchasing practices and alleging conflicts of interest. Cales was also hit with an unrelated fraud charge.

First, Bahrami had to regain the trust of Florida’s citizens, legislators and agency leaders, and rebuild morale among her staff. To quickly get her arms around the situation, Bahrami gathered her key IT managers and private sector partners to spend a weekend hashing out a tactical plan for the technology office.

Within two weeks, they had established six initiatives – enhancing the Myflorida.com state portal, beefing up information security, streamlining the technology services desk, installing a next-generation network, consolidating data centres and aggregating IT purchasing. The goal was to wring the excess costs out of the technology office and make it more efficient.

Next, Bahrami changed the content and direction of staff meetings after realizing the discussions weren’t always relevant and didn’t always lead to action. “I spent a lot of time and energy putting together a strong team that understood the need to communicate openly and regularly. They [understood] that if there were issues, that we had to lay them out on the table, make a decision and move forward,” she said.

She earned credibility in the eyes of the state legislature by aligning herself with those in power in the governor’s office, including Gov. Jeb Bush. Whenever she had to stand before the legislature to ask for funding, she always walked in with a team of her staff members and representatives from other agencies that had a stake in the initiative she was presenting. They would brief the legislature together. “There’s strength in numbers,” she said.

To rebuild staff morale, Bahrami instituted an awards and recognition program called Tech Triumph. She also holds monthly informal brown-bag lunch sessions where IT employees discuss the projects they’re currently working on. Bahrami said the idea behind the sessions was to foster a sense of camaraderie among IT employees and give them an opportunity to share knowledge.

Her myriad efforts are finally showing results. Within several months of being named acting CIO, she released an enhanced version of Myflorida.com. Previously, the site didn’t even have a functioning search engine. Now it includes an FAQ page, e-commerce applications and easy ways for public servants to obtain policy information. “That catapulted us into success and helped us get additional dollars to move forward,” she said. She’s still moving forward, one step at a time.