So you want to be a CIO?

Federal government chief information officers arrive on the job with a variety of skills and previous work experiences, from being private-sector CEOs and CIOs to career civil servants. There might not be a single preferred track or background to prepare for the job. But there are some essential competencies that successful ones will have, said Sharon Dawes, former director and now senior fellow at the University of Albany's Center for Technology in Government.

Strategic Thinking and Evaluation

This involves an in-depth appreciation of the program and policy goals that drive IT selection and use.

CIOs must understand:

  • Business and policy reasoning.
  • IT investment for value creation.
  • Performance assessment.
  • Evaluation and adjustment.


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Systems Orientation

More than simply information systems, this extends to an awareness of the organization, its functions and its environment as an interconnected whole.

CIOs must understand:

  • Environmental context.
  • System and social dynamics.
  • Stakeholders and users.
  • Business processes.
  • Information flow and workflow.

Appreciation for Complexity

Government CIOs operate with large-scale, high-risk, high-visibility projects whose participants seldom hold exactly the same values and expectations and often report to different leaders.

CIOs must understand:

  • Communication.
  • Negotiation.
  • Cross-boundary relationships.
  • Risk assessment and management.
  • Problem solving.

Information Stewardship

The CIO’s job is generally understood to be about technology, but it’s really about information.

CIOs must understand:

  • Data management.
  • Data quality.
  • Information sharing and integration.
  • Records management.
  • Information preservation.

Technical Leadership

No longer relegated to back-office automation projects, today’s CIOs need to be on the leadership team to communicate with and educate other leaders about the possibilities and risks of technology.

CIOs must understand:

  • Communication and education.
  • Architecture.
  • Infrastructure.
  • Information and systems security.
  • Support and services.
  • IT workforce investments.

About the Author

John Zyskowski is a senior editor of Federal Computer Week. Follow him on Twitter: @ZyskowskiWriter.

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Reader comments

Fri, Apr 9, 2010

Has anyone done a compartive analysis yet between the CIO and the CMOs? NDAA 2010 implemented the CMOs? We have already begun to see a turf battle over who is responsible for even IT Investments, Architectures, etc...

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