Letters to the editor

Following are responses to an FCW.com poll question that asked, "Does your chief information officer have enough clout to make things happen?"

The problem with CIOs and the current state is a combination of dinosaurs, power struggles and technological incompetence.

All too often the leadership and staff are simply from another era. They think in terms of emotional processes and old-school thought, even though many claim to be enlightened. They think in terms like "computers are here to stay" or the focus and all money go to current operations and delivering goods.

Many CIOs are not creative with their insight. They are focused on policy and not leveraging technology. The battle cry is almost always, "Current policy limits us." There is no out-of-the-box thinking even from the ones who claim to be out of the box.

A recent general's claim to fame was his radical out-of-the-box thinking style. I never observed this. In fact, when I presented real out-of-the-box thinking centering on complex adaptive systems theory, I was told that I do not represent this command and was hushed.

Power struggles are a major roadblock. They stem from the financial people who have control of money and the operations people who do not want to give up control of operations.

In all truth, no one else has a stronger view of the operational processes and financial situation than those in information technology. IT people tend to clash with financial and operations people, who have short-term focus and lack long-term strategic thinking. Although CIOs have long-term focus and are strategic thinkers, no real benefit is derived unless all can find a balance.

Technological incompetence is frustrating. Computing has been widespread for 15 years, yet there are so many people who cannot operate their software at reasonably functional levels.

Just the other day I was tasked with building five graphics in Excel. The "project" had been handed off to four people before it got to me. None of them could do it. Despite tremendous protest, I was told that I had to do it because no else could. The principal person involved had not maintained any historical data. I spent 18 hours reconstructing data and building the area charts — doing some else's job — for a four-star general.

I am asked every day how to copy things, print, select printers, refresh browsers, etc. It is so bad that I started scripting Web applications that provide standard services to get people out of Microsoft Corp. Office products. A Web-based document prep tool literally eliminates the use of Microsoft Word. Other tools in the works target PowerPoint, Excel and FrontPage. They are simple tools that eliminate the bells and whistles and formatting issues. They are strategic in that the data they use directly feeds reports and briefings automatically. Processes are streamlined and redundant effort is removed. This is a CIO-level vision.

In all, I have spent time performing at the CIO level while holding other positions and successfully got things pushed through only because I backfilled my time and worked toward goals, quietly slipping things in here and there. Meanwhile, the supposed CIO is off doing silly things and is bogged down with the mundane.

Often I have seen the CIO has little technological competence himself. Many tend to sit around and wait for guidance and only then act. The dawning of the CIO as a critical decision-maker is not here yet. We are still taking baby steps. Meanwhile, a few bright stars wink in and out of passing storms. I believe it will take another 10 years before people realize the true value of a strong CIO.

Name withheld by request


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