Management

CTOs can't agree on what CTOs do

Shutterstock image (by Makkuro GL): crowdsourcing innovation. 

The emerging role of the federal chief technology officer isn't necessarily about technology, according to top tech managers from three different agencies. It's about managing change.

To David Larrimore, CTO at Immigration and Customs Enforcement the CTO's ability to better manage the "chaos and modernization" rampant in today's IT environment is a key to the position. A CTO should have the ability see a strategy to solve a technology problem, rather than just choosing a particular technology, he said on a Nov. 9 AFFIRM panel in Washington.

"I'm a cheerleader," he said. "There are a lot of smart people" who can solve technological problems. Larrimore, who has been CTO at ICE for less than six weeks, said procedures within an agency can bog down innovation.

"I'm an evangelist," agreed G. Nagesh Rao, CTO at the Small Business Administration's Office of Investment and Innovation, "as well as a catalyst for investment" in technology.

Rao said his mission at SBIR includes coordinating among federal agencies on an SBA program that distributes $2-2.5 billion a year, he said. Bringing together agencies and companies in the growth accelerator program, he said is not only a technical job, he said, but required "showing them I wasn't another Silicon Valley brat."

To Francis O'Hearn, Treasury Department CTO, the position is also primarily about change management. The Treasury Department has disparate technological needs, from straight-up data processing capabilities for the Internal Revenue Service to manufacturing capabilities for the U.S. Mint.

The biggest challenge is to find commonalities among them that can be addressed, he said. O'Hearn has also been on the job for six weeks as CTO. He moved from director of IT capital planning in September.

Shared services, he said, especially for human resources and financial operations have addressed some of those commonalities across those operations. However, the effects of those shared services across the Treasury Department has had unexpected consequences for some systems, he said.

"Treasury isn't testing technological boundaries," he said, taking a more conservative approach to using proven technology to handle its sensitive financial mission. He was cautious about how IT modernization is used, as some of his agency's systems are from the 1960s and use software written with the COBOL programming language.

The department, he said, should be seen as "sitting on hands" when it comes to modernization. The older systems, he said have been upgraded repeatedly, are built around specific processes and may not be in need of a complete replacement.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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