Emory Miller: Blazing a trail

Training and educating the information technology workforce have taken on a new sense of urgency as procurement and management reforms place new demands on IT professionals.

Business and project management know-how have become sought-after skills, especially if those skills help agency officials keep their IT programs off the Office of Management and Budget's high-risk list.

The foundation for many of today's training programs was an innovative program called Trail

Boss that began in the late 1980s to bring together IT executives looking to share ideas and network with their peers.

"Trail Boss was probably one of the government's most successful programs because it answered a critical need when government was struggling with acquiring large mission-critical systems," said Emory Miller, a former General Services Administration executive now with Robbins-Gioia LLC. "Based on my experience, it was probably one of the broadest programs we had in training up until that time."

But even successful programs run their course. In 1999, Trail Boss made way for a new training program called the Strategic and Tactical Advocates for Results (STAR) program. STAR put in place a seminar program aimed at mid-level IT executives.

Reflecting the trends in government, STAR made project management a central part of the curriculum, Miller said. For IT managers to be successful, they have to have a broad perspective, ask intelligent questions and understand how multiple factors influence the decisions they make, he said.

In the case of chief information officer training and education, a government/university partnership filled the void. CIO University is a virtual consortium of universities offering graduate-level courses for senior executives. "We said, 'Here is what a CIO organization needs in terms of competencies to be successful,' " Miller said. "For the first time we were able to identify things most important to us, and the universities were able to respond with offerings directly addressing those issues."

Programs such as CIO University reflect the role of IT executives. They are really an "attempt to recognize there is a management level of IT that goes beyond technical infrastructures to focus on how to make IT a partner in mission delivery," said Fred Thompson, a former Treasury Department official and now a director at Unisys Corp.

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