Jan 25 2012

The Changing Role of the CIO

Federal CIOs must adapt or become a statistic.

Recent changes in the federal IT landscape have created challenges that CIOs are not prepared to reckon with. Technology changes constantly, and budget constraints are tighter than ever. Is it really possible for CIOs to do more with less?

Then and Now — What Has Changed?

During my five years as CIO of the Interior Department, my role changed at a breakneck pace. So what are CIOs facing today, and how are they adapting to the changing landscape of emerging technologies?

  • Federal budget constraints have intensified. While limited IT budgets have always been a challenge for federal CIOs, the current budgetary constraints are profound. TechAmerica’s 2011 federal CIO survey reports that CIOs identified “inadequate budgets” as the greatest barrier to their effectiveness. CIOs not only face intense pressure to implement technology modernization and security compliance, but they also must plan for the uncertainties of an approaching presidential election and the impact of a deep recession.
  • Productivity and unemployment are on the rise. Productivity in the United States increased by 18 percent in 2009 and again by 3 percent in 2010, primarily because of efficiencies created by technology. Increased efficiencies and an increasing dependency on outsourcing will produce fewer jobs and contribute to the high unemployment rate. While government historically has been perceived as a safe haven of job security, a large-scale federal workforce reduction will be a big part of efforts to trim the federal deficit.
  • Exploits and breaches are deeper and broader. The proliferation and sophistication of cybercrime over the past decade has significantly changed the CIO’s approach. Now more than ever, IT operations are viewed from a risk-based perspective. The need to keep information private is testing the government’s risk tolerance and raising the stakes on the importance of data protection.

How Can CIOs Adapt?

It’s no surprise that the average tenure for federal CIOs falls between two and three years. The frustration level of CIOs who are not prepared to adapt in the current IT landscape will likely exceed their desire to remain in the position. How can CIOs prepare for change?

  • Education: Learn how to manage a changing technical environment. Invest time in reading and attending conferences and webinars. Network with colleagues who face similar risks.
  • Identity management: Be smart on privileged identity management, which is key to improving compliance and reducing risk. Providing end users with liberal access and admin rights to keep costs down can backfire.
  • Security awareness: Educate the internal workforce and external users on essential security practices.
  • Virtualization: Have a thorough understanding of virtualized environments in order to make prudent investments that produce good returns and enhance secure performance.
  • Cloud mistakes: Be comfortable with the movement of data into the cloud by understanding the impact when mistakes occur — and they will occur. Know what kind of risk-based questions to ask of cloud providers.
  • Course correction: Because it’s nearly impossible to “get it right” the first time, be sure to have the means to amend contracts and update procedures.

CIOs must demonstrate a return on their investments. Consolidation and modernization need solid business cases and must demonstrate a definitive rate of return. To make that happen, CIOs must have a solid relationship with business officers and hold a seat at the table when budget allocations are being discussed at the CFO level. Now more than ever, CIOs must be prepared to think outside the box on where the agency is going. Regardless of what challenges emerge, one thing is certain — the role of CIO is destined to change.

<p>Ben Van Hook</p>

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