There Is Such a Thing as Too Much Speed

By Wendy Rayner  |  Posted 2002-11-01 Print this article Print

Patience is a virtue—it just wasn't this CIO's virtue. By slowing down, she let her organization catch up.

When I became the chief information officer for Governor Christine Whitman in 1998, New Jersey was in the dark ages in its use of the Internet. We were 32nd in a national survey on "Where the States are in Digital Government." Two years later, we were sixth. PDF Download

We weren't the first state with a portal because we wanted to do it right. Some states had Web sites they called portals but they were really just places to download information. They weren't interactive. You couldn't actually transact business there. We decided it was important to be technologically sound, with great security. So we built the portal fundamentally, from the bottom up, incorporating policies as well as applications. We reengineered all the forms to allow companies to conduct their regulatory business online. It freed them up to be more productive. That was our goal—to keep the state economically viable.

Of course, it wasn't only New Jersey's businesses our portal had to serve—it was the state's citizens, too. No other state had done a survey asking its citizens what they wanted from their state's E-government. We did that and found that they didn't want some complex process automated. Sure, they wanted to be able to use the Web to renew their driver's license online and file their taxes. But their No. 1 request was recreation information, a quick resource of what they could do in New Jersey that would be fun and good for the family. So that's what we gave them.

Moving at a measured pace doesn't come naturally to me—I'm not the kind of person who likes to be 32nd in anything. I'm competitive. I'm very task-oriented. I like to get projects done and get on to the next thing. How am I going to get to the end if I don't hurry?

You'd think the quickest way to get things done would be to issue an edict, but in practice edicts can backfire—especially when you're trying to accomplish something important, like prepare for Y2K or digitize part of a state's operations or do anything else that involves reengineering or change-management principles. You can't go faster than your people are willing to accept. You can issue more "thou shalts" in the private sector, but even there, I think, you often lose people and sacrifice results by being too prescriptive. I tried it a few times, and I learned my lesson.

When I was with New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), I issued a memo announcing that we were migrating to Microsoft Word. It rocked the department. Suddenly we had all kinds of obstacles. The technical staff didn't know the software, and if the truth be told, I think they feared for their jobs. The lawyers argued that WordPerfect, not Word, was the standard for the legal profession. There were budgetary objections—people saying, "Who's going to fund it? We just bought all this other stuff." There was huge pushback.

So I went back and did what I should have done from the beginning—I got together a team of technical and business people. We presented it to management and, in a matter of days, got it approved. That's the better way to do it because, if people are part of a decision, they're more willing to implement it. I knew that, but I was trying to move too quickly.

One thing I'm glad I did at DEP was create a group that took suggestions for saving money—we saved millions. No one knows better how the business runs than the people in there doing it every day. Corporate and government leaders can't grasp the nuances of a process—they have no idea. They don't see the forms that are being used, understand how the work is accomplished or how it connects with other processes. You can expect employees to give you the best suggestions on how to improve, but they're not going to want to do it unless they're participating. They're going to say, "What the heck do you know?" Change management to me is letting everyone participate in a shared vision.

—Written with Robert Hertzberg and Joshua Weinberger
Wendy Rayner was chief operating officer of New Jersey's Department of Environmental Protection before becoming the state's chief information officer in 1998. She is now a partner with Tatum CIO Partners LLC.


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