Where do CTOs fit in?
- By Colleen O'Hara
- Jul 31, 2000
Despite its popularity in industry, the position of chief technology officer
is relatively rare in government. However, more and more agencies are buying
in to the CTO concept to help them sift through, manage and stay on top
of technology issues and trends.
The U.S. Postal Service, the General Services Administration's Federal
Technology Service, the Air Force Research Laboratory and the Defense Information
Systems Agency are among the agencies that have hired CTOs. And the Defense
Finance and Accounting Service recently entered the CTO market.
The DFAS Information and Technology Directorate posted a job notice for
a CTO last month, calling for someone who has technical qualifications,
such as experience in software engineering, maintenance and operations,
as well as executive qualifications, including business acumen.
Agencies with CTOs have defined and structured the position differently,
especially the CTO's relationship with the chief information officer, who
oversees the design, use and acquisition of IT. However, a strong technical
background and the ability to work with internal and external customers
appear to be universal qualities for a CTO.
At the Postal Service, Peter Jacobson has been CTO for about seven months.
He serves on the agency's management committee, which consists of the postmaster
general and other senior executives. At the top of his responsibilities
are policy issues related to security and privacy and how the agency incorporates
technology into its business operations, Jacobson said.
"Technology is the smaller challenge," Jacobson said. "Changing the culture,
the process, the way people do business, is a major change."
Among the people who report directly to Jacobson are the Postal Service
CIO, who is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the agency's infrastructure,
and the USPS vice president, who manages the agency's information platform
initiative, which is USPS' next generation of mail delivery systems designed
to improve customer service.
Jeffrey Pound Sr., CTO at the Air Force Research Laboratory at Wright-Patterson
Air Force Base, Ohio, advises and reports to the CIO, oversees computer
technology issues at the lab — such as World Wide Web development — and
works with CTOs and CIOs at the subdirectorates.
Pound and other lab CTOs tested personal digital assistants and found that
they posed a security risk when used to receive or send government e-mail.
As a result, Pound sent a policy suggestion to the CIO that would limit
the use of PDAs for e-mail.
Organizations that are inherently technical, Pound said, "tend to recognize
the dichotomy between business and technology. That leads to [the] decision
that both need to be represented in the Office of the CIO."
In the Office of Information Technology Integration at GSA's Federal
Technology Service, Christopher Wren said he is a resource for people, particularly
on moving to seat management. "I am a consultant to organizations that are
delivering service to the [federal] clients," said Wren, who has been CTO
at the ITI for almost a year.
As CTO, Wren said he is a "concierge" for technology. He has a broad
understanding of technology, but said, "If I can't answer the question for
you, I know who to go to for an answer."
Because it is difficult to find a person who is savvy in both technical
and business areas, "sometimes the best answer is to have both," said K.
Adair Martinez, CIO for the Department of Veterans Affairs' Veterans Benefits
Administration. "It is hard to find IT people that want to understand and
be full partners with the business side or vice versa."
Some agencies, out of frustration with technology, have put a business
person in as the CIO. "When that happens, the CIO is often swamped by the
IT culture and finds it difficult to manage," Martinez said. "For those
instances, a CTO provides a balance to the business person."
Judi Hasson contributed to this article.