CTOs should embrace, not eclipse, CIOs

Agency IT leaders are essential for a governmentwide CTO’s success

I had a taste of the joys and frustrations associated with governmentwide information technology initiatives during my days leading the Clinton-Gore Reinventing Government IT team and then serving several years as vice chairman of the CIO Council.

I believe the federal chief technology officer that President-elect Barack Obama plans to appoint will need the CIO community resources to really effect change across the government IT enterprise.

The CTO will immediately gain credibility by the very nature of the position that reports to the president. However, getting things done will also require support from the CIOs across government. The CTO must use the Federal CIO Council to the fullest extent possible.

The person appointed CTO will have questions to ponder. What technologies, applications, infrastructure and multiagency IT programs should be managed as governmentwide programs? What are the roles of the agency CIOs, other executives, the General Services Administration and other agencies?

A new administration creates an opportunity to define a vision and a governance structure to manage the complex, governmentwide IT enterprise. The governance structure could consist of a senior steering committee led by the CTO along with the GSA administrator and the deputy director for management at Office of Management and Budget. The CIO Council should be the conduit that provides advice and defines IT initiatives that are presented to the steering committee. The other existing CXO councils and their support structures would generate funding, acquisition and staffing strategies for the programs.

This governing structure would manage all governmentwide IT initiatives and programs involving multiple agencies. CIOs would still run IT programs unique to their agencies while also serving on the CIO Council that oversees these multiple agency systems. CIOs who run successful programs at their agencies could become executive agents for different functional areas as programs expand to other agencies. A reward system could be devised to recognize CIOs who contribute to governmentwide progress.

This approach changes the executive-level decision-making process. It recognizes the importance of the CIOs and starts the culture change necessary to move government IT programs into a more collaborative mode.

Government continues to struggle with IT skill shortages and demands for world-class services from the taxpayers. Budgets are likely to remain tight, forcing more demands for consolidation, streamlining and managed services. I foresee the day — it might be 10, 15 or more years from now — when government agencies are focused on policy and programmatic matters while all government IT services supporting the agencies are provided as utilities. Now is the time to put in place a strong, mature governance structure to manage this future enterprise.

Flyzik is a consultant and chairman of the AFCEA International Homeland Security Committee. Before leaving government in 2002, he was vice chairman of the CIO Council, chief information officer at the Treasury Department and senior technology adviser to Tom Ridge in the White House Office of Homeland Security.

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