Executive training gains momentum
- By Louisa Shepard
- Nov 15, 1998
David Hammond was becoming increasingly frustrated with his job at the Coast Guard. Changes in the way his shore facilities division was managed were not going as quickly or smoothly as he had expected. After a particularly contentious meeting one day last year, he went directly to his desk and filled out an application for the National Defense University's (NDU) advanced management training program.
"In a blinding flash I realized that I was kind of crazy to put off learning these things, and that you have to educate yourself to help the organization in the end. Take the time, go learn and then come back and start the battle again," said Hammond, a senior program manager. "The program was a life-changing experience. It just opened my eyes."
Members of senior management throughout government are discovering that their eyes also need to be opened to smarter uses of information technology. As the need becomes more apparent, schools inside and outside government are expanding and starting training programs aimed at high-level federal managers.
Part of what is pushing these programs is recent legislation, such as the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, the Government Performance and Results Act and the Federal Acquisition Reform Act. All are aimed at making government IT use and acquisition more effective and efficient.
In addition, economic pressures brought on by budget cuts are forcing managers to make better-informed decisions on the purchase of technology. And technology is ever-changing with the explosion of the Internet and the use of tools such as artificial intelligence and virtual reality. Policy, of course, plays into all of this as well.
"There is so much pressure today for senior executives to show a payoff from their investment and to show how IT helped them meet their goals and their mission," said Janey Nodeen, who graduated not only from NDU's advanced management program but also from the General Services Administration's Trail Boss and 1,000 by the Year 2000 executive training programs. "IT can make a huge difference and make a breakthrough."
Nodeen now owns Burke Consortium, a Springfield, Va., consulting firm that helps government agencies comply with Clinger-Cohen by assessing how well IT is aligned with their businesses.
While serving as deputy for acquisition and program executive officer for submarines in the Navy, Nodeen said she used what she learned in the training courses to "think long and hard about the mission and the business processes in the organization and apply technology." As a result, the strategy for acquiring a new attack submarine changed dramatically, resulting in a submarine that was less expensive and more capable, she said.
"The more that senior leaders go to courses, the more they will understand how to provide efficient and effective government back to the taxpayer," said Robert Elliot, a retired Navy captain who graduated from the NDU program.
"We're leveraging the technology so the money is spent wisely," said Elliot, now an IT program manager with Dell Computer Corp. "One of the fundamental tenets is to provide a link from technology to the business or the mission. It stresses that the technology should support the mission. That's a powerful linkage."
There is no standard program for training senior-level managers about how to better use IT or even a central source list of programs available.
"There is no one-size-fits-all [program] because people are from widely different backgrounds," said Glenn Sutton, the deputy chief information officer at the Office of Personnel Management. "There is not one standard way to do this. It's up to each agency to see what they need and what can be obtained."
Sutton serves as co-chairman of the education and training committee of the federal CIO Council, which is trying to create that standard. "We're trying to develop common road maps so everyone is not on their own," he said. By next year the council hopes to have a World Wide Web site that will list information on the courses available. Several programs are available now, and a few new ones are in the works.
Courses of Action
The most comprehensive programs are offered by the Information Resources Management College at NDU, Fort McNair, Washington, D.C. About 3,000 students attend the college each year, either through the advanced management program, the Chief Information Officer certificate program, the Defense Acquisition University or by taking elective courses.
"The bottom line is strategy," said Robert Childs, dean of faculty and academic programs at the IRM College. "The students have to look at information and information technology as key strategic resources."
The advanced management program, offered twice a year, is a 14-week, full-time course that draws students from throughout government and industry. It is equal to 15 hours of credit at three universities, or half a master's degree. Of the 50 students in each class, about 70 percent are from the Defense Department. About three-quarters of the students are civilians.
The courses teach students how to harness the power of IT to most effectively and efficiently reach their goals, Childs said. Most importantly, the courses teach students how to measure technology's performance.
One required course, for example, is Measuring Results of Organizational Performance. Other core courses include Transforming Work and Organizations, and Acquisition and Systems Development. All students go on a field study, usually at a major corporation, to see firsthand how IT management is used in the private sector.
In past years, many of the courses taught students simply how to use technology. "Now people know how to use the technology. Now we focus on using the tools technology makes available to probe much larger questions," said Dwight Toavs, a systems management professor.
For example, in a simulation course, the students work in teams to develop software, each taking on a management role. Computer technology makes it possible to simulate their work, implement their management decisions and produce detailed results, making it possible to understand the long-term impact of their decisions. "Now it's not just 'What button do I push?' but 'How do I simulate hiring extra software managers?' " Toavs said.
Advanced management program students can earn their CIO certificate through electives, but the university also offers a separate CIO program, which is eight weeks long and can be completed over four years. After Clinger-Cohen passed, DOD designated NDU as its primary CIO school. The program covers the 10 "core competencies," as identified by the federal CIO Council, necessary for the CIO certificate. Students also can earn their 1,000 by the Year 2000 graduate certificate, one of several IT training programs and seminars at GSA, through elective courses.
Although run by DOD, NDU courses cover topics that apply to industry and to other government agencies. "The language is different; the principles are identical," the Coast Guard's Hammond said.
The advanced management training program gave him the decision-making skills he needed by showing him the best business practices developed in the private sector, he said. "Now I have the tools to work at a strategic level that I didn't have before," he said. "That's what changed my perspective. I could see how I could accomplish those goals."
For Debbie Loud-on, one of the most important lessons she learned was methods of measuring performance, especially in different organizations.
"Everything is based on performance," said Loudon, a management analyst at the National Imagery and Mapping Agency. "There wasn't anything that pulled that together for me before, how that needed to be done or why." As a result, she is assessing her programs to align them with the agency's strategic goals.
Loudon, like many of the students at NDU, simultaneously earned her 1,000 by the Year 2000 certificate.
The 1,000 by the Year 2000 program provides a graduate certificate in information resources management. The aim is to prepare leaders by teaching them how to use technology more effectively to deliver services. The program name comes from GSA's goal of graduating 1,000 students by the Year 2000.
The certificate program is a cooperative effort between academia and government. Six mandatory courses offered by 29 universities are open to federal employees, who first must be accepted into the universities' master's programs. Six of the universities offer courses online, but generally students attend on campus. Since the program's start in 1990, 589 have graduated.
In contrast to the academic-oriented 1,000 by the Year 2000 program, the Trail Boss program, started in 1987, is an intense two-week program, offered twice a year, with 20 to 25 students in each session.
The program is designed to teach managers how to take charge of projects, make them accountable and able to best direct their IT management teams. Seminars address topics such as performance measures, business process re-engineering, capital planning, program management and leadership, and IT best practices.
"We take people buried in organizations and give them a big-picture view," said Richard Wolfe, the Trail Boss program manager. In addition, there is a Trail Boss Roundup, which is a week of seminars offered once a year that brings current students and former graduates together. So far more than 1,200 people have graduated from the program.
Emory Miller, now director of GSA's IT professional development, became a trail boss in 1990 when he was with the Internal Revenue Service. The course not only opened his eyes to new possibilities but also created a network he still relies on, he said. "It helped me better understand how to do my job," Miller said.
Other organizations are picking up on the demand for IT management training, in some cases specifically targeting CIOs.
The federal CIO Council is developing a virtual CIO University that will address the 10 core competencies by drawing on the resources of six universities. Students will be drawn half from the federal government and half from private industry, Miller said. Classes will begin in 1999.
The Office of Management and Budget's 30-year-old Federal Executive Institute, Charlottesville, Va., this month is adding a course to its 14-week flagship Leadership for a Democratic Society program. Called Managing Information Technology as a Strategic Program Asset, the course is aimed at teaching senior-level managers how to best leverage IT.
"There seemed to be an overwhelming need [to address the] management needs of information technology," said Robert McMahon, a senior faculty member who is also in the Senior Executive Service. There is definitely an interest: Applicants must wait more than a year to get into the program, which is offered 10 times a year, with 70 to 75 in each class.
The Graduate School at the Agriculture Department offers several courses, ranging from one to three days, including the Chief Information Officer, Implementing the Clinger-Cohen Act, and IT Performance-Based and Results-Based Management. "We try to stay on top of what the issues are and then develop courses to address those issues," said Deborah Smith, director of communications.
"Any manager needs to understand how technology can and can't be used to further their program objectives," said Anne Reed, chairman of the USDA Graduate School's board of directors. "There is still a gap."
The University of Virginia also has recognized the training need. This fall its Northern Virginia Center is offering a new Technology Leadership Certificate. Designed for completion in a year, the program consists of six courses, each 10 weeks long, three hours a week.
In 2000, the university plans to offer a course designed specifically for CIOs and chief executive officers.
So where will these courses lead the leaders in government?
"We can't make the necessary changes without technology. I don't see how we can go into the future, providing quicker, better, faster services with detrimental budgets, with the same level of service, without information technology to enable that," the Coast Guard's Hammond said. "I learned about that, and I understand how hard it is going to be."
-- Shepard is a free-lance writer based in Washington, D.C.