Reflections from the C-Suite

As the new administration gets settled, it’s important to take a minute and reflect on what the leadership of the last administration can teach us – especially in technology. Looking back on the lessons of past members of the government IT C-suite allows future leaders to facilitate innovation and break through legacy processes that have often hindered government organizations. To hear some of these lessons from past leaders, Christopher Dorobek sat down with former Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the Department of Commerce, Steven Cooper, on this week’s DorobekINSIDER.

As the old leadership transitions out and new leadership comes into agencies, the opportunity for positive changes are immense. Cooper explained, “I believe that the next four years under this administration that the opportunities for change and leveraging technology for positive valued added in the federal, state, local, and tribal governments are off the charts.”

One of the biggest opportunities for change lies in the retirement of legacy systems. Whether it is an application, infrastructure, enterprise platforms, HR practices, or acquisition, legacy systems encompass anything that has been around long enough to pose a cyberrisk or anything that an organization is now paying more than necessary to maintain. “If either of those two criteria are met, you have a legacy system and a marvelous opportunity for change,” Cooper explained.

“The CIOs across the federal community certainly believe in bipartisan support for the ability for us to work together across the federal community in some way,” Cooper said, “so we can figure out a way to fund some of these required changes to retire legacy systems and optimize and modernize what is already in place.”

In addition to helming modernization efforts, agency IT leadership has to work on tightening up initiatives across the board. “One thing we did at Commerce was put guidance in place that said look, no more multiyear and multimillion dollar initiatives in the business or the infrastructure space,” Cooper said.

Instead, they focused on keeping project timelines under six months and on delivery tangible business value as defined by the customer. Forcing more collaboration and shorter timeframes made it much easier for Cooper and his team to keep initiatives on track.

New leadership also has the opportunity to tackle cybersecurity challenges. “One of the things that is a neat opportunity is that a lot of federal CIOs and CISOs have a very real challenge of being able to rapidly test and field new cyber solutions,” Cooper explained.

To do so, Cooper recommended an agile program that would be able to bring in promising new technology under an operational pilot. This would allow agencies to test out new technology in a small scale, bounded environment and then work on deploying it if it looks promising. “We need to work together to field this stuff differently than we’re doing today so that we can move rapidly and get new solutions into our environment,” he said.

Looking forward, Cooper recommended that new leadership work on seizing every opportunity. The next for years present incredibly positive opportunities for CIOs and their staff. Cooper concluded, “Identify opportunities, seize opportunities, balance opportunities, and take appropriate risk and the stay the course. If they do this, I think the next four years anybody in our field is going to have a marvelous time.”

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