MERCER: Tone set for new BIT commissionerOne of the hardest jobs in state government in South Dakota is delivering and protecting the technology services that government offices increasingly depend upon and that more and more citizens rely on.
By: Bob Mercer, Republic Capitol Bureau
One of the hardest jobs in state government in South Dakota is delivering and protecting the technology services that government offices increasingly depend upon and that more and more citizens rely on.
This seems dry. Yet effective performance is crucial. For many people the Internet has become their link to their government, whether local or state or federal.
Each year we see new types of digital information that is available from the government, and we routinely receive new ways to submit digital data for licensing and other purposes.
Different governors have different styles and different approaches. Since early 2011, we’ve been going through such a transition at the top of the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications.
Otto Doll was the commissioner for the state Bureau of Information and Telecommunications for more than a decade under the two previous governors, Bill Janklow and Mike Rounds. Within his area of government information technology services, Otto was seen as a national leader.
But state government runs on a shoestring in many ways in South Dakota, and that limits BIT’s performance.
Salaries often aren’t sufficient to make for easy recruiting of IT professionals, especially to a remote capital such as Pierre.
Likewise, state government agencies aren’t awash in cash and their leaders don’t like paying the fees BIT must charge them for the services provided.
Relations gradually grew politely strained between BIT and many of the government offices that BIT serves. After his election, Gov. Dennis Daugaard decided BIT needed a new face.
He originally brought in Dom Bianco, who had extensive experience in the technology side of the telecommunications industry. Dom was able to give one year and left in March to be with his aging mother.
Now the Daugaard administration has turned to a familiar old hand, David Zolnowsky, the chief information officer at Dakota State University. David began in the information technology field in Pierre for state government from 1973 to 1985 and has been at DSU since.
Here’s how Tony Venhuizen, the governor’s director of communications, explained it:
“When the governor took office, he directed BIT to put a renewed emphasis on ‘customer service.’ He believes BIT should be a service provider that helps agencies to find the best solutions for their IT (information technology) needs, and that requires collaboration and a strong, ongoing working relationship.
“Secondly, he directed BIT to reevaluate its policies and practices to ensure simplicity. BIT processes should be ‘value-added’ from the perspective of the agencies, and not overly bureaucratic. The governor’s motivation on this point is similar to what motivated the ‘red tape’ efforts that other agencies undertook last year.
“The governor’s charge to incoming commissioner Zolnowsky is that he continue the efforts in that direction. As you know, Jim Edman will remain as deputy commissioner, and he brings a lot of experience and continuity to this work.”
So apropos of the Internet age we emailed a set of questions to David about his new job.
Q. What led you to return to state government as the incoming BIT commissioner?
A. Friends from Pierre encouraged me to apply. The position of BIT commissioner, while daunting, provides unique challenges and opportunities.
Someone who finds enjoyment in promoting the effective utilization of computing and networking technologies might temporarily heed only the siren’s song of opportunities but the challenges offer their own enticement. Over the last several decades, technology industries have moved us forward a great distance, but with continued advancements I believe the truly exciting times are yet ahead of us.
To be able to help the state embrace the promise of the future offered by increased use of technology is too great a lure to pass by.
Q. Will your appointment lead to additional synergy between state government and DSU in the technology realm?
A. There is already strong synergy between state government and DSU and I would hope that would continue to build. I’m hopeful my appointment will, over time, also generate better synergy between BIT and the other BOR institutions.
Q. What did you find most rewarding during your years at DSU?
A. Working with faculty and students to integrate technology into the curriculum is probably the most rewarding component of the DSU CIO (chief information officer) position.
DSU’s technology-oriented mission motivates faculty and students to explore emerging technologies and to seek new ways to utilize proven existing technologies. The environment is dynamic and the approach to problem solving is collaborative. Whoever succeeds me will find an exciting and fun workplace.
Q. What do you see as your top things to address at BIT?
A. I believe BIT is currently doing a good job. We may have to define better ways to recruit and retain staff to fill some of the vacancies in some areas of BIT and explore ways to offer professional development to staff.
Jim Edman has been doing an admirable job as Deputy Commissioner and particularly as Interim Commissioner. That has allowed me, in turn, some extended time at DSU to try to ensure an orderly transition as the campus prepares for the upcoming school year.
There is no crisis at BIT — I anticipate a calm and orderly transition as I step into the role as commissioner.