Charles F. Gerhards
Title: Deputy secretary for IT
Organization: Governor’s Office for Information Technology, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Location: Harrisburg, Pa.
Industry: State government
B.S. Accounting, Pennsylvania State University; University Park, Pa.
Years in IT: 29 years
Career advice: In this environment of dynamic change, people need to adapt quickly–always reaching for the future and not holding on to the present. We are rapidly learning that cultural, not technological, change is our biggest challenge. Today, learning change management skills is as important for IT professionals as their technical skills.
Biggest career challenge: Prior to Governor Tom Ridge, many state government administrations in Pennsylvania viewed IT as a necessary evil–that is, spending on IT was an expense, not an investment. As a result, hardware and software was purchased, but those responsible for its implementation were denied training. Also, everything purchased needed to be “low-bid” rather than “best value.” Because of this short-sighted philosophy, many state IT projects took longer than necessary to implement, and some even failed.
During the past five years, Governor Ridge has instilled an enlightened IT philosophy modeled on the best practices of successful private sector firms. We now invest in IT as an enabler to increase employee productivity, improve our services, and lower the cost of operating state government. Now, as with any other investment, the governor holds IT executives accountable to achieve measurable results. Obviously, this approach is working, as Pennsylvania is recognized as an emerging technology state. Our experience in Pennsylvania demonstrates that both the public and private sectors can benefit from sharing ideas on the most productive uses of information technology to support improved organizational business processes.
Technical architecture guiding principle: Don’t try to achieve 100% perfection before implementing computer-based systems. Normally, completing the last 5% of the work to develop a system requires 20% of the effort. Instead, agree with your users to implement 90% or 95% of a system now and add the “bells and whistles” later. Systems will be easier to design and you will achieve implementation faster.
Last two books read: The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement, by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox; Gung Ho!: Turn on the People in Any Organization, by Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles
Favorite vacation: Cruise to Bermuda
Hobbies: Auto racing, golf
Family: Happily married with two sons
Favorite quote: “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.”
—Texas folk wisdom