Where do CTOs fit in?

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.


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