ELC 2015

'If you're slow, then you're in deep, deep trouble'

Tony Scott  (Photo: VMware)

Federal CIO Tony Scott

An overarching theme for the 2015 Executive Leadership Conference was how IT can enable better government by 2020, and the general consensus was that smarter acquisition and empowered IT professionals are the key.

Federal CIO Tony Scott, however, had a slightly different take.

The fundamental IT building blocks in government need to be replaced, and replaced quickly, Scott said in an Oct. 27 panel discussion at the ACT-IAC event. 

"Most of the technology that the government has invested in ... had its design point 10, 15, 20 years ago, when we didn't fact the kind of threats that we face today" he noted.  "It's inconceivable to me that you can build the kind of security you want with components that weren't designed for that challenge."

Scott didn't disagree with the assertion -- made by Federal Communications Commission CIO David Bray, Environmental Protection CIO Anne Dunkin and Transportation Security Administration CIO Steven Rice, who also took part in the panel -- that workforce concerns are critical.  But he said that leadership, rather than the talent pipeline overall, was his primary concern. 

Noting the demographics of both government and industry IT professionals, Scott said, "we're leaving fast.  Have we done everything we could do and should do" to cultivate and prepare "that next generation of leadership?"

Federal Emergency Management CIO Adrian Gardner, who moderated the discussion, said he was actively focused on the leadership question as well, and that agencies are not thinking enough about succession planning.  "When I look to my left and look to my right, I really worry about who's coming ... to replace me," Gardner said.  "I want to hire my successor."

Bray agreed, but also stressed that leadership and management are two different skillsets.

"As we update legacy systems, we're also going to disrupt legacy ways of doing things," Bray said.    "And if any one of us start failing too much -- probably after the second time -- we're probably out of the job."

CIOs and other IT leaders, he said, must be prepared for the pushback and repercussions, even among their own support bases.  And they need to be trained to embrace risk-taking, he said -- "but informed risk-taking -- it's not cavalier."

Scott, for his part, said the skills he's looking for in the IT workforce are "adaptability, creative thinking and then speed."

"And speed may be more important that other things," he said.  "If you're slow, then you're in deep, deep trouble."

Getting more speed "somehow into our system" would be his top wish for the next few years, Scott said.  "Faster to fail, but more importantly, faster to succeed."

About the Author

Troy K. Schneider is editor-in-chief of FCW and GCN.

Prior to joining 1105 Media in 2012, Schneider was the New America Foundation’s Director of Media & Technology, and before that was Managing Director for Electronic Publishing at the Atlantic Media Company. The founding editor of NationalJournal.com, Schneider also helped launch the political site PoliticsNow.com in the mid-1990s, and worked on the earliest online efforts of the Los Angeles Times and Newsday. He began his career in print journalism, and has written for a wide range of publications, including The New York Times, WashingtonPost.com, Slate, Politico, National Journal, Governing, and many of the other titles listed above.

Schneider is a graduate of Indiana University, where his emphases were journalism, business and religious studies.

Click here for previous articles by Schneider, or connect with him on Twitter: @troyschneider.


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