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The evolution of the CIO: Chief geek or strategist?

Are CIOs supposed to be technologists or strategists? Depends on who you ask. When Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew last month released a memo about the changing role of federal CIOs, he highlighted the CIO as moving away from policy making and infrastructure maintenance to “encompass true portfolio management for all IT.”

The memo outlined four areas of focus for agency CIOs: governance, commodity IT, program management and information security. These are responsibilities that Federal CIO Steven VanRoekel said would enable CIOs to cut wasteful duplicative systems, simplify services, and deliver more efficient IT to support agency missions.

“With responsibilities for these four areas, agency CIOs will be held accountable for lowering operational costs, terminating and turning around troubled projects, and delivering meaningful functionality at a faster rate while enhancing the security of information systems,” VanRoekel wrote Aug. 8 on the Open Government Initiative blog.

Although the OMB memo outlined some goals that mirrored the items in the 25-point plan, it failed to acknowlege the role modern information management and technology has in resolving management problems at federal agencies, Mark Forman, former administrator of e-government and IT at OMB, and Paul Brubaker, former deputy CIO at the Defense Department, write in an upcoming commentary for FCW.

“As we continued reading [the OMB memo], however, we noticed that the Office of Management and Budget was changing the focus on CIOs as strategic partners at the management table to something more akin to an operational technologist. The contrast could not be starker: The memo makes the CIO into the chief geek rather than the government modernization guru.”

While the government might be looking for a “chief geek,” a new survey by Deloitte suggests that private-sector employees want their CIOs to shoulder a strategic or revolutionary role. Forty-five percent of nearly 1,000 IT executives polled say their CIO is viewed as a steward, while 45 percent called their CIO a strategist. The remaining 10 percent said their CIO is a revolutionary, a number Deloitte anticipates will rise as technology continues to shape how business is done.

Advancements in technology – such as mobility, social platforms and cloud computing -- provide CIOs more tools and resources at their disposal, said Suketu Gandhi, principal at Deloitte Consulting LLP.

"These combined technologies give the CIO the opportunity to be an active strategist and decision maker within their respective organizations, and can allow them to be a revolutionary force,” he said. “The CIO will increasingly have the ability to actually change how business is conducted."

What’s your take on the evolving role of the CIO? Are government CIOs vastly different from industry counterparts? How do you see the role of the CIO changing?



Posted by Camille Tuutti on Sep 14, 2011 at 12:19 PM

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Reader comments

Fri, Sep 16, 2011 Dennis

This is completely opposite to the growing trend for splitting IT management strategy into 2 positions. CIO is the policy strategist and CTO (Chief Technology Officer) is the technology strategist. They work together (mostly) to coordinate how the technology and administrative policy come together at a time when the sheer volume of both is unmanageable for a single person.

Thu, Sep 15, 2011

Charlie Feld (former commercial sector CIO) makes the point that IT is a Blind Spot (title of his book) for many business leaders in the commercial sector. I have found this to be true for many federal government leaders as well. The role of the CIO is to fill in that Blind Spot and lead IT-enabled transformation for mission success and business efficiencies. The great ones can do both, strategic partner and chief geek, but they are hide to find.

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