CIOs wrestle with budget priorities

NAPLES, Fla. — Last week's Government CIO Summit, sponsored by the FCW Media Group, Federal Computer Week's parent company, drove home at least one point: In a world of rapidly changing priorities and tight budgets, technology managers have to do more work than ever to stay relevant in the eyes of agency leaders and legislators.

CIOs need political muscle

Kentucky State Rep. Mike Weaver and others told the conference that chief information officers need strong political partners to make sure technology projects aren't overlooked. "I think if you want to accomplish anything through the legislative process, you have to decide what legislators you want to select to help you," Weaver said, speaking on a panel.

Dealing with funding issues and priorities means CIOs need a legislative partner, regardless of political affiliation, panel speakers said. Reaching beyond political parties to the needs and benefits of technology can help CIOs gain funding, they added.

For instance, Wisconsin CIO Matthew Miszewski — a Democratic appointee by the governor — found his ally in a conservative Republican who shared his views on technology. "It's the accountability that's been missing in the state of Wisconsin that helped me gain ground with the right-wing Republicans," he said. "It's too important for this discussion to be wrapped up in partisan politics."

One way around the politics is to focus on saving money, Miszewski said. Showing the benefits that spending money on technology can have on funding other social services, CIOs can make a case to legislators for tech funding, he said.

Speaking of paying for IT

The president of the National Association of State CIOs told a conference organization that NASCIO officials will work with state legislative associations to create a model for pushing the use of alternative ways to fund technology projects.

"We want to work with states and offer some technical assistance and capture and catalog those best practices to update the brief," said Gerry Wethington, Missouri's CIO and president of NASCIO.

The next element of the alternative funding issue is creating effective and efficient procurement policies, he said.

Keep your security chin up

Government officials these days pay plenty of attention to at least one aspect of information technology: security. But don't let the dark side of the IT world get you down, said Charles Kolodgy, a security expert with market research firm IDC.

Agency officials should adopt a positive way of thinking when it comes to addressing system security, he said.

"Let's start thinking positive in the sense that 'I have 10 things I need to do, so I will focus on those, not the 50 things the bad guys can do,' " Kolodgy said. "As long as the system is in that state, then I am happy."

Rather than focus on the countless ways hackers can get into a system, agency officials should establish a "known good state," or an understanding of what processes and applications need to be protected and protect them, Kolodgy said.

Do CIOs matter?

Of all the conference speakers, perhaps none drew a bigger buzz than Nicholas Carr, author of the now-famous — or infamous — article "IT doesn't matter," which appeared in the Harvard Business Review.

Carr — playing Daniel to the summit's CIO lion's den — expounded on that thesis and told CIOs that their real job isn't staying relevant, but just the opposite. In essence, he said, CIOs have succeeded when the position is no longer necessary. That translates to cheaper technology investments and generic solutions, although it will take time, he said.

Not surprisingly, most of his audience defended the existence of their jobs.

Harris Miller, president of the Information Technology Association of America, disagreed with Carr's assessment. CIOs must use technology creatively, capitalizing on the information of the organization and the knowledge of its personnel, Miller said. He added that the value of a CIO can be seen when two organizations use the same technology but get different results.

"Your job as the CIO becomes more important," said Miller, also on the panel. "You need to be even more a part of the basic enterprise strategic planning."

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