Virginia CIO Returns To Changed Landscape

Lemuel Stewart Jr., who headed the state's IT operations in the mid-1980s, comes back with a lot more independence, a five-year contract--and a higher salary.
Been there, done that.

A major accomplishment of Lemuel Stewart Jr.'s stewardship over IT in Virginia in the mid-1980s was the consolidation of 11 data centers operated by an array of agencies into one center managed by a single department. That amalgamation produced $140 million in savings over four years. But with the advent of distributed computing, IT became decentralized in the years after Stewart left government for the private sector. Eventually, management of IT in Virginia was spread over 91 executive-branch agencies, three technology groups, and two tech boards.

Stewart returns to government service as state CIO, and will again shepherd the fusing of technology under a new organization that will manage nearly all IT in the state. As the IT director in the 1980s, Stewart indirectly reported to the governor. In his new job, which starts in the first week of February, he'll work for the independent Virginia Information Technology Agency and will report to a board appointed jointly by Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, and the Republican-dominated General Assembly. Unlike nearly every other state CIO in the country, Stewart's fate rests with an independent technology board, not the governor.

The law establishing VITA provides for a five-year term for the CIO, an unprecedented situation for a government-technology executive. That means he'll serve during the terms of at least two governors--Virginia governors can serve only a single four-year term. Stewart sees being independent of the governor, coupled with a five-year term, as giving the CIO the freedom to tackle major, time-consuming IT programs without facing many of the typical internal political problems common in managing government operations. "The CIO has time to get things done," he says. "Projects of this magnitude aren't short-term ventures."

This will be especially true in a gubernatorial election year--which for Virginia will be 2005--when government activities often slow to a crawl. With a five-year term that will extend three years into the next governor's administration, Stewart doesn't expect to miss a beat in delivering IT services to the state's various constituencies.

An early task Stewart sees himself facing is reassuring officials in agencies losing control over IT management that there will be no disruption of service. "It's a cultural revolution," is how Stewart characterizes the creation of VITA, which is one-third of the way through an 18-month process to absorb IT management. "I need to get in front of these people and show how it will be beneficial to them," he says. "It's important for the CIO to get out and be visible, to establish credibility. It's the right thing to do."

In searching for a CIO, the technology board sought someone who was politically savvy and could furnish private-sector know-how. Stewart headed a number of private IT ventures and was a business-technology consultant when he was tapped for the $165,000-a-year job, making him among the highest-paid Virginia officials and state CIOs.

He's also very familiar with the workings of Virginia government. George Newstrom, Virginia's technology secretary and chairman of the board that oversees VITA, says Stewart's understanding of and connections with Virginia government give him instant credibility. "Lem Stewart is someone who has established himself with the General Assembly and oversight groups," Newstrom says. "That's a strong positive."

Stewart points out that some lawmakers and executive-branch officials who were beginning their governmental careers in the 1980s now hold leadership posts. "I know the public arena," he says. "I don't have to build a new network."

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