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Putting the CHIEF back in the CIO

With technology playing a central and critical role in the way government operates you would think the Chief Information Officer would have a seat at the table. But that isn’t always the case.

Bob Otto is the former CIO at the Postal Service and is now an Executive Vice President at Agilex.

He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that sometimes it is hard to lead as the CIO because you don’t have the power of the purse strings.

“As the CIO, you are supposed to be the leader, but if you have multiple CIOs within and agency, you have multiple leaders,” said Otto.

Biggest Challenge

“For CIOs the biggest challenge is that agencies expect everything to work all the time. Whether it is a printer, a PC a mobile device, an application, they expect it to run. But that is just the entry stuff for your job. If you are not pushing for people to be more productive or beat the competition then you are not really doing your job either,” said Otto.

Power of the Purse Strings

“The truth is CIOs would like to have the authority to say we think there is a better way to resource it. Or no that isn’t the right type of technology we should use. Or no we ought to put these two projects together and buy a consolidated solution. Retired VA CIO Roger Baker and I both had that authority when we were CIOs and CIOs need to have that ability,” said Otto.

Strategic Thinker or Practical Do’er

“It is a big job to be in charge of the technology for an organization and to then be responsible for the hundreds of projects that go on and to then be responsible for setting a tone that is strategic for the rest of the organization,” said Otto.

Seat at the Table

“The role of the CIO varies from agency to agency. When the CIO and the head of an agency are able to sit down at the beginning and say this is what I expect from you, then you have a seat at the table. But when they just call you up and say I want you to keep the IT running you don’t have a seat,” said Otto.

Misunderstood Role

“I think when you have political appointees coming in and heading up an agency they don’t really understand the role of the CIO. All they know is they seem to be responsible for the technology at the agency. But this can be overcome, it is just a matter of trying to explain to the boss what you can do to further the agency’s mission,” said Otto.

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Profile Photo Peter Sperry

“Whether it is a printer, a PC a mobile device, an application, they expect it to run. But that is just the entry stuff for your job.”

When the entry level stuf is not getting done and all the end users hear is a series of lame excuses about why their office system is not as relaible as thier cell phone, it is hard to get a seat at the table.

“The truth is CIOs would like to have the authority to say we think there is a better way to resource it. Or no that isn’t the right type of technology we should use. Or no we ought to put these two projects together and buy a consolidated solution.”

When OIT requires months of architecture review, governance develpoment, alternatives analysis and years of development funding, all supported by favored contratctors, in order to field glorified pocket calculators, it is hard to keep any seat at the table they may have gained.

“When the CIO and the head of an agency are able to sit down at the beginning and say this is what I expect from you, then you have a seat at the table. But when they just call you up and say I want you to keep the IT running you don’t have a seat”

Keep the IT running relaiably for more than 6 months at a time and respond to end user requests for upgrades and new systems with an implementaion cycle of less than 5 years and you might earn a seat at the table.

“I think when you have political appointees coming in and heading up an agency they don’t really understand the role of the CIO.”

Many of them understand the role of the CIO very well and take immediate action to find a way around her/him so they can get the IT support they need while the current administration is still in office.

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