Flyzik: A question of credibility

CIOs must understand how IT can make their agencies successful

I had the honor and privilege to work for the government for more than 27 years as a career civil servant. During that time, I served on the Clinton administration team that helped craft the Information Technology Management Reform Act of 1996, which later became the Clinger-Cohen Act.

The empowerment of federal chief information officers was an important issue that we discussed extensively while crafting Clinger-Cohen. But empowerment doesn't guarantee results; it provides the opportunity for results. A competent CIO gets the results.

So what makes a CIO matter? The simple answer is to become credible.

CIOs can gain credibility by understanding their agency's business objectives and how IT will help the agency accomplish those objectives. Good CIOs build relationships with Congress, their agencies' top managers, the private sector, their peers in the organization and their employees.

Oh sure, CIOs also need to implement programs for IT capital planning, IT investment decisions, IT budget execution, and IT program and portfolio management. But to become a key player, they need to be influential in getting results.

Getting results implies understanding technology and, equally important, requires the CIO to know how to apply technology to solve business problems. A CIO must have the courage to challenge and change traditional agency cultures and institutionalized work processes. The millstone of culture change and governance far outweighs the challenge of making a technology decision.

So are CIOs getting there? Have we achieved Clinger-Cohen's goals? Are CIOs key players in agencies?

We see mixed results. In some agencies, CIOs have indeed become major players on business decisions. But in others, they are still considered to be nothing more than technical support. The fundamental culture change necessary to make CIOs matter has a long way to go. It will take consistent pressure from the Bush administration to move the government into the world of best practice IT implementations.

But it will happen. It has to. Government customers -- U.S. citizens -- will demand services from their elected officials that equal the best that they find in the private sector. Clinger-Cohen envisioned this, and government agencies must not lose sight of its importance.

Our country's security, international competition and economy demand that we find ways to bring world-class IT implementations into government agencies. To help instigate the changes, CIOs must show the courage and desire to embrace change.

Despite periodic setbacks, we are on the right track and are heading in the right direction. How long until we get there? I don't know. But when I hear private- sector CIOs talking about bringing government best practices into their companies rather than the other way around, I will feel good remembering those long days and nights hammering out the Clinger-Cohen provisions.

Flyzik is a partner at the government technology consulting company Guerra Kiviat Flyzik and Associates. He left the government in 2002, and his career included years as vice chairman of the CIO Council and CIO at the Treasury Department. He can be reached at jflyzik@govspecialists.com.

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