4 executive organizers

Three small-agency CIOs discuss strategies for managing personal e-mail and BlackBerry use, PowerPoint presentations, and brainstorming.

Federal chief information officers struggle every day with complex issues as they strive to align technology with their agencies’ mandates. But often, it’s the simple things that make or break their days: managing network connectivity, mastering the art of the meeting, brainstorming with officials who run their agencies’ major programs and keeping the e-mail monster under control. We asked three federal CIOs to share ideas about how they manage the mundane so they can effectively deal with the larger problems facing them.Managing e-mail inboxes is a nearly universal annoyance. Sorting the daily deluge of messages is a personal-management challenge, and storing all those messages during their useful lifetime places a strain on agencies of all sizes.The e-mail challenge requires small-agency CIOs to be aggressive about managing inboxes on personal and agency levels. “We put limitations on the mailboxes,” said John Rogers, CIO at the Consumer Product Safety Commission. “We have a warning that starts at 250M. At 300, it cuts off.”Rogers said his staff members encourage employees to organize their e-mail messages into different mailbox files and store them on the agency’s storage-area network. The agency set the size limit on the server primarily for business continuity. “One of the reasons we went to the limitations on mailboxes was the recovery time required to bring [Microsoft] Exchange back up” after it goes down for whatever reason, he said.For many agencies, especially those with even modest records management requirements, archiving technology is becoming a necessity for keeping server storage manageable and content within easy reach. Rogers said the product safety commission is looking for an archiving solution.Alec Palmer, CIO at the Federal Election Commission, faces similar archiving challenges. “We’re running out of space and need to be efficient,” he said. FEC is a Lotus Notes shop. “We’re looking at archiving on a separate server so that it’s available in real time,” he said.Archiving is important to Palmer and FEC because of the number of employees who access e-mail remotely via XMail, a Web-based mail client. “If you haven’t cleaned out your inbox, XMail is very slow,” Palmer said. “Archiving will help us keep mailboxes cleaner and smaller.”At the Court Services and Offender Supervision Agency, CIO William Kirkendale said storage-limit policies and Symantec’s Enterprise Vault satisfied the agency’s requirements for managing e-mail. “We have a couple of ways to search through the content: Vault Explorer and a search tool,” Kirkendale said.But the first line of defense for each of these CIOs is the creation of e-mail folders. Each of them maintains multiple folders to organize messages and move important ones out of their inboxes.“My staff educates people to set up folders and gives them the option of saving their sent messages in a special folder” in Notes, Palmer said. “We teach them to think of it as a filing cabinet and categorize their folders by content. We also have search tools within Notes that are very effective at finding any word within messages,” Palmer added.Rogers said he uses another method to help keep his e-mail organized: He has two e-mail boxes. One is his personal inbox for internal use. The second is an inbox with a CIO address for external use. The CIO address is listed on the agency Web site and the Small Agency CIO Council site, he said.“It’s a great place for transition e-mails” if there’s a change in CIOs, Rogers added. However, because the mailbox address is published on the Web, it could become a major spam magnet. “Fortunately, we have really good spam detection software,” Clearswift’s MimeSweeper, he said. “We’ve been very fortunate. It has had a very low false-positive rate for spam.”Wireless e-mail is part of nearly every federal CIO’s life these days — both supporting it and using it. In addition to deciding who gets to have a Research in Motion BlackBerry, small-agency CIOs have the difficult job of managing their own availability through the device. Many of them say the BlackBerry lets them balance being connected to the office and having a life outside the office.The BlackBerry also factors heavily in many federal CIOs’ disaster recovery and business continuity plans. The primary management issues are balancing the cost of the service against the need to keep agency executives and information technology staff members accessible during emergencies.“We’re not really a 24/7 shop,” Palmer said. “But we do need to provide support on weekends, and [BlackBerrys] have been a great asset,” he added. “There’s a peace of mind in that you can get an answer in five minutes instead of five hours.”Palmer and his staff members recently put the finishing touches on a policy for managing the agency’s wireless e-mail devices. “Adding up the monthly fees, the BlackBerry can get pretty expensive,” Palmer said. The new policy sets levels of functionality available to various classes of users and establishes which roles in the agency require BlackBerrys.Palmer also had the delete function on FEC BlackBerrys turned off by default because the devices are fully synchronized with the agency’s IBM Lotus Notes servers. “We turn [the delete function] off unless they specifically want it,” he said. “We encourage users not to delete [any message] from the BlackBerry because then it’s deleted from Notes.”Although deleting a message doesn’t necessarily mean it’s lost, the habit of deleting BlackBerry messages after reading them could mean that messages not captured by a backup system could disappear from the system, creating a scramble for lost information and a records management problem.At the Consumer Product Safety Commission, BlackBerry policies center on executive use and business continuity, Roberts said. About 50 people in the agency have BlackBerrys of various models, and the agency uses RIM’s BlackBerry Enterprise Server to synchronize with Microsoft Exchange. “We don’t disable the delete capability,” he said. “But I do have personal instances where I’ve deleted something and was able to pull it back.”As for escaping the addictive properties of the BlackBerry, CIOs have their personal strategies. Kirkendale said he reads his BlackBerry messages in spurts.“I like to knock e-mails out as quickly as I can,” Kirkendale said. “I’ve heard people talk about how it’s a crackberry, but I’d rather crack ’em out when I can than have 50 e-mails waiting for me when I get back to my desk.”Palmer is a BlackBerry Pearl user. “I carry it with me, but on the weekend, if I know nothing’s going on, I won’t keep it clipped to my hip. It’s around at night. But I look at it as something to facilitate making my life easier. We have a culture at FEC of working hard, and the Black-Berry helps us augment that.”However, like Kirkendale, Palmer said he isn’t a big fan of typing long responses on the BlackBerry, especially on the Pearl’s limited keyboard. “You have to be patient, but it learns well,” he said. “I’m even to the point of starting to use some of that texting language that the kids use.”Roberts is another advocate of sane BlackBerry use. “I look at mine regularly. There are different levels of adoption, but we have a good practice here in our organization where it doesn’t rule the individual.” Roberts said he makes it a rule to not drop everything when the BlackBerry vibrates. “I try to keep a good balance of having it available but not ruling our lives. At night, I may check it now and again — more during the day, less on weekends. I’ll typically connect to mail via [a virtual private network] from home.”Preparing for an executive presentation requires more than pulling together some PowerPoint slides. Rogers said he can’t imagine just walking into a presentation with a slide deck. “In some cases, that’s all you get — a chance to look through the [slide] deck,” he said.“The greatest tip I could give anyone on presentations,” he added, “is to do as much prep work as you can, practicing on folks, on your staff.” Rogers said he believes in trying out the material on people who are the intended audience for presentations to make certain that the concepts are right for the audience.For a recent presentation, Rogers went even further, showing his slides to each of the planned meeting’s participants in advance. “All of the participants got previews, so people were ready for the content. It took a lot of work, but it was very important,” he said.Sometimes slides might not be the best medium. Palmer said the presentations he makes each quarter to the FEC’s six commissioners are all in PowerPoint standard templates. But for other situations, he turns to more interactive sources.At a recent conference of provincial and state CIOs in Vancouver, British Columbia, Palmer spoke about how the FEC developed its systems. “Rather than PowerPoint, I showed all the systems we built on our Web site. There’s more stuff on the Web that you can use for presentations and demos. It’s more effective to use something live instead of a canned presentation.”With interactive data, it’s easier to respond to queries that come up in the course of a presentation. “You just can’t do that in a PowerPoint,” Palmer said. “To be honest, if you can do a presentation [with live applications], that’s more meaningful.”Often, one of the most important tasks CIOs undertake is pulling together various constituencies in their organization to map a strategy or collectively make decisions on what new projects to launch. When it comes to brainstorming, some CIOs have become advocates for a more technically driven approach. But many still prefer having a conference room, a whiteboard and a marker in hand.“Different people use different tools, but there’s nothing like hashing it out on a whiteboard,” Rogers said. “If it’s just getting together and brainstorming, we use a printable whiteboard and have someone draft something up. We do use [Microsoft] Office Communicator a great deal when we have people in different locations, and we use videoconferencing a lot. Sometimes we blend the two together.”Palmer said brainstorming is a major part of his agency’s IT project review process. “I don’t know the business activities as well as the people who own them. The only technique I really use for brainstorming meetings is to send an agenda out ahead of time.”Palmer added that he uses FEC’s strategic plan as a template and maps out where he thinks the IT initiatives fit and how they meet business objectives. “Then everyone takes the floor,” he said. “I encourage people to think across the board, not just [in] their area of expertise. We’ve actually been quite successful. At the end of the day, we’ve had a lot of success agreeing where [project dollars] should be spent. I have a rapport with all the senior leaders, and that makes it easy.”Kirkendale uses MindMapper, a software package for organizing ideas. “It’s a visual tool to draw relationships between things and ideas,” he said. “It’s a very useful tool we’ve been using for a few years.”But Kirkendale also has used his own decidedly low-tech exercises for teambuilding and visualizing projects. “I bought some china plates for a dollar apiece and wrote the names [of team members] on them, and around the sides I wrote processes that were important to the project. Then we filled out index cards for each element of the processes and put them on the plates to see how much was on each person’s plate.”Kirkendale said he included contractors in the exercise, but they got paper plates.


1. E-mail























2. The BlackBerry

























3. PowerPoint presentations













4. Brainstorming















Gallagher is a freelance writer in Baltimore. He can be reached at sean@dendro.com.

NEXT STORY: Intell teams get ready for action

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.