The Modern Government CIO


This week my focus is on IT leadership and the evolving role of the government CIO.  I’ve collaborated with my colleague and public sector cloud expert William Sanders, former CIO at the Kansas Department of Labor, to share his perspective on this topic. William is currently Director, Cloud Platform Strategic Programs, Oracle Public Sector.

A few words from William

I spent a number of years in state government as the CIO for a core-mission, billion-dollar state agency. During that time, I made many friends with agency CIOs from other states. Often, as we were socializing at conferences and association meetings, would discuss common challenges we were having back home and how others had gone about addressing the issues.

Irrespective of size, geographic location, or political leanings, we fought the same battles over strategic direction, budgets, and the technology required to deliver high-quality service. We faced the same complex issues – sometimes with a different flavor or scale – but all-in-all very similar. 

A tale of the overwhelmed CIO

I kept in particularly close contact with one of my Midwestern counterparts.  My colleague’s problems were complex and familiar: big staff cuts with aging IT systems; no budget directly allocated to him; required to seek Line of Business approval to spend outside personnel costs; no planned refresh cycle; unable to sunset most of what he had despite its technical obsolescence. As his staff retired, he struggled to replace them with people who knew his older technology. In summary, he faced a large and growing technical debt.

This was true of his most mission-critical systems. While his systems were able to function, it wasn’t without the ever-present fire drill, especially during periods of peak workloads. In addition, his agency experienced failed IT projects. His staff grew jaded. When presented with a path forward, their response would be something about how modernization efforts wouldn’t be successful, or that they couldn’t allocate the staff to modernize and simultaneously keep the systems up. I thought to myself, well, a Viking boat would sail across the ocean, but is that the way a modern sailor would want to go? Machiavelli famously once said, “It is easier for the losers to see what they will lose than the gainers to see how they will gain.” For my friend, this was absolutely the case.

Unfortunately, the scenario  that William describes is quite typical of what many government CIOs face. This mode of business is simply not sustainable.  So how can the vendor community help government CIOs embrace and act on the innovations that will lead to more successful outcomes? First, we have to help them execute on the key points that will create success, regardless of the service delivery model they choose.

  • Select small, clear and visible wins
  • Celebrate successes
  • Maintain the change momentum by using success to tackle more change

Everyone reading this post are likely familiar with technology trends around cloud, mobility, digital transformation, lean, agile, incremental, etc.  We also know that CIO’s need to wear many hats, from managing day-to-day operations to innovate with technology and everything in between.  Modern CIO’s will eventually operate an IT business that  relies on hybrid cloud principles and quite possibly embraces more cloud services than on-premise architectures. CIO’s can achieve cloud success with various service models, but must understand that Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS) all have different value propositions. IaaS makes it easy to move application stacks and show quick wins, but don’t have the overall cost savings that PaaS and SaaS can bring. Platform is aimed at reducing the people costs of maintenance and development –  an IT organization’s most costly expense.  Given that CIO’s are the shepherds of an IT department, they spend as much time with personnel and budget issues as with technology issues,particularly in the government space.  Cloud offers a way to deliver more with less—and demonstrate success quickly.

In addition to lower costs, PaaS also offers the CIO the ability to become agile. Development teams are often waiting on the infrastructure organization to provision the environment. In order to make new services available faster, PaaS can be used to offset the weeks or months it would otherwise take to procure hardware, install software, configure software, implement security controls, etc. With PaaS this timeframe could be reduced to hours or days – quickening the pace of change, reducing the risk of delayed go-live dates, and giving the project team and end-user community the confidence that positive change is coming.

CIOs are asked to do more all the time, and the pressures continue to rise. The need to demonstrate value for their organization is constant, whether it’s standardizing processes, reducing costs, innovating, or providing more services with fewer resources. The list is endless.  As a vendor community, we need to be there to support them and help them shine with their stakeholders.

Franco Amalfi is part of the GovLoop Featured Blogger program, where we feature blog posts by government voices from all across the country (and world!). To see more Featured Blogger posts, click here.

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