Opportunity knocks for CIOs

Choices for advanced education and training keep pace with CIOs' evolving roles

CIO University

In response to the changing responsibilities of federal chief information officers, opportunities for professional development have also expanded.

The CIO University, a consortium of a half-dozen universities, provides graduate-level courses and programs on project management, security, capital planning, information systems architectures and other information technology related issues. The CIO Council created the virtual university, and the General Services Administration administers it.

The National Defense University's Information Resources Management (IRM) College provides many IT and management courses and certificate programs through classroom and distributed learning environments.

There are also short-term, intense programs for senior IT executives, such as the E-Government Executive Education program at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government and CIO Boot Camp offered by the Center for Excellence in Government, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

Corey Booth, who has been the Securities and Exchange Commission's CIO for the past two years, signed up for the two-day boot camp in fall 2004. Coming from the private sector, he found that the camp helped him better understand technology issues in a federal arena. He said the program also allowed him to talk about issues with peers from larger agencies, an opportunity he didn't have before.

Federal CIOs see their roles evolving.

Carl Staton, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's CIO, said federal CIOs will move from a more technical focus to a more business-oriented role. Staton has taken several federal training opportunities, mostly in management.

"And I think probably not too far down the road -- a few years -- the role of the CIO is going to be looked at a lot differently," he said. Staton said technology has become as important to project or application development as anything else, and the CIO essentially takes a business or corporate leadership view.

Booth agreed. He said a CIO has a better understanding of an entire agency or organization than most other senior level managers. Booth said he can't afford to become an expert at anything and must delegate responsibilities to his staff, but a CIO should at least understand what an employee is talking about.

CIO training and education depends largely on a person's background, he said. For example, Booth earned a master's of business administration and has skills acquired while working in the private sector. But he said he needs to focus more on issues such as federal procurement and Office of Management and Budget requirements.

"Depending on the walk of life you come from, you're going to have very different skill development needs," he said. "In every case, you've got to get much, much smarter about the actual mission and actual subject matter of the actual agency."

Education, training and professional development officials are trying to keep pace with the public-sector IT community's needs, whether those are in technology, business management or other areas. Educators are developing distance or distributed learning courses and are reaching out internationally and down to the local level as a way to provide different perspectives. They are also customizing courses for government executives.

But government CIOs don't have much time for education and training. Booth said he's too busy. "That's fundamentally the biggest problem here," he said.

Education providers recognize that problem and have created short-term seminars and programs for senior public-sector IT officials.

For example, Syracuse University is one of the institutions affiliated with the CIO University and IRM College. It offers boutique courses, which are essentially two- to three-day seminars that focus on one subject, such as security or enterprise architecture.

Scott Bernard, who directs Syracuse's Washington, D.C.-based program, said he alerts alumni and students in advance of courses, which are equivalent to one unit of continuing education credit. It's a way to update government IT executives and maintain and strengthen ties to the university.

Jerry Mechling, director of Harvard's e-government program, said the program teaches students how to improve communications, teamwork and shared commitments between CIOs and chief executive officers. He characterized the program as more eclectic than others.

The difficulty comes in teaching how to initiate organizational change, he said. "No one person has the whole answer."

Robert Childs, director of the IRM College, said that when you're preparing CIOs, you're also preparing employees who work in IT offices. The program, which has as many as 4,000 graduates annually, trains mostly Defense Department employees. But 30 percent come from civilian agencies, the private sector and overseas.

The IRM College provides certificate programs in subjects such as information assurance and has brokered agreements with a number of federal agencies to provide education and training for various employees. The college also develops certificate programs in response to needs, such as enterprise architecture. It will introduce programs for chief information security officers and IT project managers in the fall.

Childs said the IRM College is actively courting county and state governments through associations, including the National Association of State CIOs, to provide educational opportunities.

If students would prefer to receive master's or doctorate degrees, they can attend numerous universities that have memorandums of understanding with the IRM College.

"They come in and say, 'I'll need a course on organizational performance,' and they'll take that course and say, 'This really is good.' And then it starts expanding out into other areas," Childs said.

The CIO Council created the CIO University in response to the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, which requires federal agencies to improve professional development of IT workers. The seven participating universities focus on core competencies identified by the council. Some universities offer certificate programs and higher degrees.

Bernard said he doesn't see an increase in education opportunities for the IT community. But he said competition is stronger among existing opportunities, forcing them to become more relevant and current. For example, he said Syracuse's program will offer a doctoral program in information beginning in 2007.

Margaret McCoey, director of La Salle University's IT program, which is affiliated with the CIO University, said students entering La Salle's master's program in IT leadership can also earn CIO University certification. Students usually are private-sector employees who are contracting with government agencies and looking to move into a CIO role or higher up the corporate ladder, she added.

One unique aspect of La Salle's program is a warranty program, which the university developed about 18 months ago. McCoey said the university allows IT program graduates to take as many as three additional classes for free. That offer helped garner more interest in the CIO University certification, she said.

Continuing education and research helps people keep up with changes, Mechling said, adding that more energy needs to be devoted toward that end.

"If we don't, we die," he said. "Now that's not true in government to the same extent, but it's a hell of lot more true in government now and in the future than it's been for the last 50 years."

CIO University crams core competencies into coursework

A consortium of six universities form a virtual university, known as CIO University, that offers programs to develop federal chief information officers' core competencies. Among those competencies is the ability to work in fast-changing technological, legislative, policy and political environments. A sampling of those competencies, which the consortium updates every few years, are listed below, along with an example of a learning objective for each:

  • Political and organizational competency. Learn departmental and agency missions, organization, functions, policies and procedures.
  • Competency in process and change management. Learn to design approaches to recognize, evaluate, communicate and champion organizational change.
  • Competency in IT performance and assessment. Learn how to monitor and measure new system development and know when and how to "pull the plug" on system failures.
  • Competency in project and program management. Learn how to manage a project's scope and requirements.
  • Competency in capital planning and investment assessment. Learn the elements of comprehensive business case analysis.
  • Acquisition competency. Learn streamlined acquisition methodologies.
  • Competency in e-government and e-commerce. Learn Web development and maintenance strategies.
  • Competency in IT security and information assurance. Learn principles and best practices in information assurance.
  • Enterprise architecture competency. Learn how to use enterprise architecture in making IT investment decisions.
  • Technical competency. Learn about emerging technologies.

-- Florence Olsen

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