Ronald Hawley, Chief Information Officer for the State of North Carolina, is retiring effective May 1. And the state is scrambling to find a replacement.

“There will be a hole there,’ says state Sen. Eric Reeves, a Democrat from Raleigh who is technology’s biggest booster in the General Assembly. “I’d encourage the Governor to fill it as quickly as possible. I hope to talk with his office this week”.

How soon Gov. Mike Easley replaces Hawley remains to be seen, given that Easley is grappling with a huge budget deficit. Hawley’s departure also comes shortly after the state learned its fledgling efforts to embrace the Web and online procurement is not being as effective as hoped. Hawley is in charge of that effort.

But Hawley insists his decision to leave is “in no way” linked with the setback.

“I’ve been planning to retire at this point in terms of years of service since I started my career” Hawley says.

The State’s e-commerce initiative, NC@yourservice, was designed to save the state money, but it may actually end up costing the state more than $2 million. As part of the contract entered into last summer with consulting firm Accenture, suppliers doing business with the State pay a fee that covers the cost of Accenture’s services. However, if business was not generated at the dollar levels projected in the contract, a clause in the agreement holds the State accountable for sharing program costs with the consulting firm. Thus far, the program has exceeded far below expectations.

‘Timing is right …’

After 28 years as a state employee, Hawley is retiring and relocating to Sacramento, CA, where he will be Director of Research and Statistics for the nonprofit organization the National Consortium for Justice Information and Statistics known as SEARCH. SEARCH focuses on improving the criminal justice system through effective application of information technology. The membership organization was created by and for the 50 states to identify and help solve information management problems of State and local justice agencies.

“I have a long history with SEARCH and the executive director and I have been talking about this off and on for a long time,” Hawley says. “Now, the timing is right and I’m very excited”.

Hawley has worked closely with the organization during his career, beginning while he was at the State Bureau of Investigation, then at the Justice Department and most recently during his time as CIO in the Office of Information Technology Services.

After being named to the job by former Governor Jim Hunt, Hawley was re-appointed in January 2001 by Easley, filling what Easley has described as a “critical position” within the state’s government.

Reeves laments decision

Reeves, who is chair of the Senate information technology committee, has mixed feelings about Hawley’s decision.

“His departure comes at a critical time,” Reeves says. “But, the average tenure for any CIO is about a year and a half to two years so this is not at all unusual. When he told me about his decision about a week ago, I understand his interests and I’m glad for him. I’ve never seen someone with Ron’s ability to get people together for a common cause and he will be missed.”

And Reeves concedes that whomever replaces Hawley has some challenges to address.

“As a state, North Carolina is certainly not alone, but we are experiencing some of the growing pains related to developing new ways of doing business,” Reeves says. “Not until about a month ago did we have any firm numbers out of the Controller’s office to allow us to engage in any political debate over IT initiatives.

“We found that the State spends approximately $700 million annually on non-IT spending. IT spending totaled about $150 million. It’s a peanut in a land of elephants. When you try to bring in enterprise level activities it’s difficult when multiple (government) agencies are fighting you tooth and nail. The CIO’s office is right in the middle of that.”