James “Jim” Weaver began his state IT leadership role as chief technology officer (CTO) and deputy chief information officer (CIO) in Pennsylvania, followed by a very successful stint as CIO for the state of Washington, then was lured back east to North Carolina by Gov. Roy Cooper in 2021.
In Raleigh, Weaver became cabinet secretary and state CIO joining the North Carolina Department of Information Technology (NCDIT), and has more than 30 years of leadership and management in the IT industry.
As secretary and CIO, he leads the agency responsible for strategic IT planning and the procurement and delivery of IT services and solutions as well as cybersecurity and efforts to expand broadband access and affordability across North Carolina.
Prior to NCDIT, Weaver served as director and state CIO at Washington Technology Solutions. In that role, he strengthened the department and the state enterprise by focusing on efficiency; consistency and continuous improvement; driving business alignment; balancing operations and policy; and seeking quicker adoption of newer technology.
One interesting aspect of Weaver’s CIO journey was his personal interview with Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. “I remember the one question he asked me. ‘If I were you and you were me, what would be the one question I should have asked you that I didn’t ask you,’” said Weaver. After a momentary pause, Weaver responded, “Governor, with due respect, I’d be wondering why the heck this guy wants me to come from Pennsylvania all the way to the State of Washington.”
Governor Inslee answered his question in such a clear, articulate manner that explained his rationale and welcoming overture that Weaver was dumbfounded. “I was shocked and amazed. The governor hammered it,” Weaver said. “Wow! This is somebody I definitely can work for, and work with.” And thus, our friend Jim Weaver considered himself very happy to embark to the Pacific Northwest.
Weaver was fortunate to be appointed a cabinet secretary and CIO in Washington and again at his next stop in North Carolina, a distinction that only a dozen or so other state CIOs maintain. That is a distinction which Weaver and his other cabinet secretary state CIOs attribute to their success. We’ll explore this issue and the claim that a strong CIO governance model with cabinet-level status for the state CIO is the sine qua non for a successful state CIO in a future article. However, Weaver’s experience with this model is quite revealing.
“A year ago, we actually debated this among some of us CIOs at NASCIO. As you know, some of the state CIOs do carry the secretary title as well as the CIO, while most just carry the state CIO one. Somebody made the comment that we should only be known as the state CIO rather than a secretary, but several of us protested. I think here in North Carolina, being the secretary of the Department of Information Technology has more meaning and allows me to get things done.”
“Without that cabinet status that all those program leaders have, you’re starting off three yards behind everybody else,” Weaver said.
The same is true for dealing with the legislature. Being an agency secretary when testifying before the general assembly, there’s a huge difference from having just an agency director.
“For example, I don’t want to call it a level of respect, but there’s a level of your engagement that differs a little bit. If I was just a state agency director versus the agency secretary, that engagement is not the same,” Weaver said.
As another example, very few state CIOs deal with broadband anymore, having been stripped away by the governor or the legislature for a number of reasons, primary political.
“Governor Cooper made it very clear to me the importance of broadband. When he and I first talked, we spent a lot of time talking about broadband,” Weaver said.
“I got to ask him some questions and provide my viewpoint. And little did I know that based on that discussion about two months later broadband was getting consolidated under my agency.”
Looking ahead, while Weaver lamented the biennial budget discussions perhaps lingering until the end of 2023, he did offer some interesting tidbits. “As to the state IT budget, taking broadband funds out of the picture. We’re normally around $600 million to $650 million. Throw broadband in there and now I add another $2.5 billion.”
We closed out our N.C. discussion turning to the timely state IT employee workforce issue, of huge interest to all state CIOs. Weaver oversees the Carolina Cyber Network, which consists of eighteen schools, universities, and community colleges, all working collaboratively on curriculum and working to establish a pipeline for talent.
“This pipeline of talent isn’t necessarily coming out and graduating with a four-year cyber degree. However, there are programs out there that you can get certifications in just eighteen months,” he said. “That’s exactly the workforce I want to tap into immediately. They’re coming out with relevant certifications, and we can get them employed right away.”