When David Behen accepted the position as CIO for the Michigan state government in 2011, he understood the enormity of what he was taking on. He had previously served as a CIO of a county government, but this role raised the stakes to a whole new level. While he was still mulling over whether to take the job, he conferred with his colleague Doug Wiescinski, a long time IT leader and former president of the Society for Information Management’s (SIM) Detroit chapter. “David said, ‘You know, this is going to be a substantially bigger job than what I had as county CIO, and chances are I am going to need some help and insight from more seasoned CIOs than myself,’” recalled Wiescinski in an interview. “And so he and I chatted about it and kind of conjured up the notion of this CIO Kitchen Cabinet.”
What’s the CIO Kitchen Cabinet? Essentially, it’s a group of Michigan-based CIOs who meet with Behen roughly once a month to network and provide input on the state’s IT-related policies. “Meetings are hosted by members who volunteer to host at their location,” explained Behen, who’s also a SIM member. “Usually the person hosting gets the opportunity to talk for 20 to 30 minutes about their organization, and then we discuss various topics, mostly around cyber security or talent. I will selfishly take some of those meetings and talk about the IT strategy, plans, and budget for Michigan. The idea is that these are some of the best minds in IT in Michigan, so let’s get their input and feedback very early on in the process, before I start pushing the issue too hard throughout the state.”
Behen wasn’t sure at first whether the CIO Kitchen Cabinet would provide enough value to entice C-level executives into devoting a half day to it each month, and so he was surprised when so many members not only showed up for the first meeting, but continued attending on a monthly basis. “We have representation from the auto companies in Detroit, the banks, several big service companies, energy companies, several hospitals, and the University of Michigan,” said Wiescinski. “All have been pretty active.”
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This CIO Kitchen Cabinet became especially vital when, in March 2016, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder announced the formation of the 21st Century Infrastructure Commission. “The 21st Century Infrastructure Commission will identify long-term strategies to help ensure Michigan’s infrastructure remains safe and efficient now and into the future,” Governor Snyder said in his announcement. “The Commission shall complete its work and issue a final report to the Governor for his consideration.” As co-chair of the communications and energy sub committee, Behen would play a central role in developing the report’s sections on communications, digital infrastructure, and information security.
“We focused on what are we going to do over the next 30 to 50 years to support the state infrastructure around communication, energy, and broadband,” said Behen. For input, he reached out to not only the CIO Kitchen Cabinet, but also the Michigan Council of Women in Technology. He began by sending out an email soliciting feedback and then followed up during the in-person meetings with more in-depth discussion. “Much of our discussion was around broadband and making it ubiquitous throughout the state of Michigan,” said Behen. “We also discussed topics like how do we lead in the development and adoption of new technologies, specifically around IoT, and how the State of Michigan can contribute to an R&D fund, especially around a smart state concept. And during all this we discussed how do we continue to enhance and push out not only identity and access management, but also security around all the things we’re talking about.”
This research culminated into a massive report listing the commission’s infrastructure recommendations. Released in December 2016, the report outlined the state’s IT priorities in the coming decades. These include:
- Making Michigan a Smarter State: Lead in the development, deployment, and adoption of new technologies and the creation of smart environments and communities.
- Improving Broadband Access and Adoption: Make Michigan a top-five state for broadband access and adoption.
- Establish the Michigan Consortium on Advanced Networks: Develop and execute a roadmap to enact a digital transformation of Michigan.
- Securing Michigan’s Digital Infrastructure: Find innovative ways to defend critical information, coordinate access and identity management, and embrace new and emerging technologies.
According to Behen, these aren’t just toothless recommendations; the state has put processes in place to ensure that these policies are actually prioritized. “In the report [the governor] talks about setting up another counsel that is actually going to oversee the implementation of these things,” he said. “We all know a good report is only good if you implement its findings.”
In the meantime, Behen continues to meet regularly with the CIO Kitchen Cabinet. In fact, it’s been so successful that it launched a spin-off group. “Cyber security is a hot topic for the governor and his team,” he said. “So as a result of the success of the CIO Kitchen Cabinet there is actually a CISO Kitchen Cabinet that evolved from those discussions. It split off into special interest groups — one around financial institutions and the other around healthcare — and they’ve been meeting on a regular basis.”