Feds enroll in institute to keep up-to-date

Carnegie Mellon University's CIO Institute Web site

Not everything a chief information officer needs to know can be learned on the job. Some CIOs say they have to step away from their day-to-day responsibilities to gain a broader perspective and see what lies ahead.

Several senior information technology officials recently cited both reasons for enrolling in courses offered through CIO University, a virtual university created by the CIO Council. The virtual university offers programs through seven higher education institutions, including Carnegie Mellon University.

"Much of what I learned in the program was pretty much news to me," said Byrne Huntley, who enrolled in Carnegie Mellon's CIO Institute when he was working for the Army. He is now CIO at the Department of Health and Human Services and director of its IT Services Center.

Lisa Sheedy, director of information management at Fort Jackson, S.C., a large Army training installation, said she had become bogged down in operational concerns when she decided to carve out some classroom time.

"You find yourself getting wrapped up in day-to-day business and losing sight of trends — of what's going on and what's coming," she said. After 19 years in various IT management positions in the Army, Sheedy enrolled in the CIO Institute.

She and Huntley are among the 48 senior officials who have earned certificates from the institute since 2000. The institute and CIO University, of which it is a part, are direct outgrowths of the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996. That legislation required federal agencies to improve professional development and training of IT workers.

When the CIO Council and the General Services Administration sought bids from colleges and universities that could offer professional development programs for CIOs, Carnegie Mellon and six other universities responded and won contracts to develop the programs, said Janet Cohen, executive director of the CIO Institute.

The institute is tailored to senior-level administrators' needs. "They want a high-level overview, and that's the program we put together," she said.

The curriculum focuses on eight competencies the CIO Council identified in 2000, and the institute continually updates its courses as new trends emerge.

"Enterprise architecture was not a major component in the initial competencies, but it certainly is now," Cohen said. Officials enrolled in the institute's certification program spend two full days learning about enterprise architecture.

An important aspect of the program is preparing officials to lead a diverse workforce, which Cohen said means managing people of different ages, genders and nationalities. She added that she used to think most managers had come to terms with diversity, but "we're actually seeing it be more of an issue," especially in IT organizations.

Officials in the Carnegie Mellon program are certified in the eight CIO competencies after completing eight four-day classroom sessions a year. "Some of it, frankly, is a little difficult," Huntley said. "Four days on Exhibit 300s, for instance, can be trying."

But he said the certificate program was relevant, focused and "provided just a wonderful rounding."

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