At summit, speakers urge CIOs to be creative

Chief information officers wrestle with tough issues daily and must be prepared for disasters. Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, a national security adviser and an original member of rock group Steely Dan, offered some advice for meeting those challenges: Avoid thinking as you’ve always thought. “Be innovative, jam, improvise,” he said.

CIOs heard from Baxter and other experts at FCW Events’ Government CIO Summit last week. CIOs were described as essential strategists for their agencies, risk managers, investors, security guards and negotiators.

CIOs’ responsibilities have expanded since the Clinger-Cohen Act created the position a decade ago, several speakers said. The government relies heavily on information technology, and agencies have handed CIOs important responsibilities.

CIOs are on the front lines, said Jon Cannon, a Navy Seal and author. Cora Carmody said the first action she took as CIO at Science Applications International Corp. was to establish an enterprise architecture and extend it to each sector of the company.

Business sectors most often view IT architecture as a “technical thing” built in the basement of the IT shop, said Barry West, the Commerce Department’s CIO.

Selling an agency on the value of building an enterprise architecture requires creativity, said David Sullivan, vice president of IT at Hampton Roads Transit in Virginia.

Funding is quickly evaporating as federal CIOs face a mid-2008 deadline for installing IPv6 on their backbone networks, other speakers said. CIOs will have to convince the business side of their agencies that the transition to IPv6 is their responsibility, too.

Bob Suda, associate CIO for integration and operations at the Agriculture Department, said IPv6 is not a technology problem, but it is a genuine business challenge for federal agencies. That point has not been publicized enough, he added.

IPv6 strategies require creative thinking, said Chris Gunderson, executive director of the World Wide Consortium for the Grid and a research associate professor at the Naval Postgraduate School. He suggested finding ways to earmark funds for the IPv6 transition.

Scott McPherson, CIO at Florida’s Department of Corrections, said CIOs are responsible for maintaining IT infrastructures in the event of an infectious disease outbreak. If a flu pandemic or similar disaster occurs, others will turn to CIOs for help.

“All eyes are going to come on the CIO,” McPherson said.

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