CIOs' most daunting task: performance measurement

Developing proper ways to measure the performance of information technology projects will be the most difficult task that chief information officers will face when agencies fill these new management positions in the coming months, according to the Industry Advisory Council (IAC).

Developing performance measurements was part of the recommendations that IAC highlighted in its 35-page "IAC/CIO Task Force Report" on how agencies should form the new CIO positions. The Information Technology Management Reform Act requires all agencies to appoint CIOs by Aug. 8.

As outlined in a draft report [FCW, July 8], IAC's final report recommended that agencies give CIOs tactical resources and authority over IT budgets and capital planning, including developing an IT inventory, mapping IT costs to missions and goals, quantifying capital expenditures, and establishing and monitoring performance goals.

IAC also recommended that special consideration be given to appointing CIOs to avoid making the position one that is less than desirable.

"Unless special consideration is given to the CIO position, 18 months out from now...we will be looking at vacant positions, inactive CIOs or people inheriting CIO positions instead of being appointed," said Renato DiPentima, chairman of the IAC/CIO Task Force and the CIO of SRA Corp.

Although not specifically mentioned in its report, IAC members agreed during a discussion of their report with reporters last week that the most challenging responsibility for CIOs will be developing a set of matrices that determine if an IT project is helping an agency meet its goals and missions.

Measuring the performance of IT projects is part of an overall movement within government to make agencies act more like the private sector by focusing on their success in meeting missions. This requires measuring outcomes, such as lowering workplace deaths and injuries, rather than outputs, such as the number of violations issued for unsafe workplace conditions.

But unlike the private sector, the impact of federal IT projects is not geared toward easily measured profits and losses. Many federal systems are involved in more complex goals of improving social problems, such as health and crime, the defense of the country or involvement in special defense operations.

Also, politics will influence how agencies measure performance.

"That's where the political arena intersects the IT arena," said Phil Kiviat, a member of the IAC/CIO Task Force who worked on the report and vice president of business development for Sterling Software Inc. "Outcomes are political. This adds a whole new dimension to the process."

But Kiviat and other IAC members said giving CIOs authority over measuring the performance of IT projects is key to avoiding problems. "Without empowerment, you have anarchy," Kiviat said.

Hank Philcox, an IAC member and CIO of DynCorp, said the private sector, despite a simple goal of increasing profits, also has found it difficult to establish performance measurements for IT projects. But he acknowledged that political influences are more prevalent in government, making it more complex for agencies to establish performance measures.

Jim Berish, the federal procurement policy manager for Hewlett-Packard Co., said the way to avoid the difficulty is to give the CIO access to senior-level management so that "you can create the link between mission objectives [and IT]." By doing so, the IT project "may take a totally different road."

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