Jan 15 2009

Challenges Ahead

As federal technology organizations begin to adapt to the new administration's goals, CIOs must address a pair of continuing, high-visibility concerns: IT security and budgetary constraints.

As agencies rev up for the early stages of the transition to a new president and his administration, many of the most senior posts have nominees, and new priorities are taking shape. In this environment, federal CIOs must be prepared to address their continuing priorities and help their organizations meet their missions, while also readying their teams to take on a host of new agenda items for an Obama White House.

Here’s a quick snapshot of the two primary ongoing challenges that CIOs face. In past years, I have written at length about the results of the annual survey of federal CIOs conducted by the IT Association of America. This survey is a sound indicator of what’s on the plate of most government IT organizations generally.  

Although the order has changed somewhat year to year, the priorities identified have remained fairly consistent. Two of the top items have been IT security and managing costs, and that won’t change in the coming year, new administration or not.

Prime Challenge: Security

CIOs have highlighted IT security as the top priority for the past four or five years. Its scope has been broadly articulated to include cybersecurity, compliance with statutory and regulatory requirements, information sharing, privacy and identity management, among other issues. One key aspect of the security challenge is operational control of the systems infrastructure to address and manage vulnerabilities, to react to and mitigate the effects of breaches in security and to manage changes to the infrastructure.

An issue for many CIOs continues to be that they lack architectural and operational control of their agencies’ systems and networks. They have policy responsibility and overall accountability, but other components in their organizations often own and operate major portions of the infrastructure. The desired state is fairly simple to envision:

  • a single point of control over all access points to the network;
  • the ability to efficiently manage the software and controls used in the infrastructure;
  • the ability to manage the storage of information;
  • the ability to establish effective continuity of operations and to engage alternative capabilities quickly.

Secondary Challenge: Funding

It should come as no surprise that CIOs, like other federal executives, feel that they are challenged by available budgets to address the immense requirements on their plates successfully. This issue has been described in many ways: doing more with less, a need to lower costs, unfunded mandates, inadequate budgets, the cumulative effect of continuing budget resolutions, and so on.

According to the CIOs — and government analysts — the perception is that this issue will get worse before it gets better because of the vast funds directed at economic bailouts and recovery and the simultaneous need to support warfighters in several theaters of operation. The effect is a reduction in available discretionary funding that might be used to improve and maintain IT.

The times seem to dictate that budgets will continue to be constrained, so using available funds more efficiently is a strategy that CIOs will have no choice but to employ. The desired end state, at least with respect to the largest cost area — the IT infrastructure — is, again, fairly easily envisioned:

  • no duplication (except what’s necessary for continuity of operations);
  • common operating environments;
  • consolidation;
  • virtualization;
  • reducing and managing labor costs.

What I find especially interesting is that the intersection of the desired state for both these challenges involves consolidation — of authority, of technology and of operational control.